CAN WE DARE IMAGINE A BETTER WORLD?
Insight into the adversity of today brings light to the science and technology of tomorrow
Panta rhei. We should aim for the stars and constantly reevaluate our way there.
FROM THE PRESIDENT
When I took office last October, I was keenly aware of the challenges that lay ahead, but I had no idea what was in store for me in my first months as Technion President. As they say in Yiddish, “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht,” meaning, “Man plans, and God laughs.” The COVID-19 pandemic was declared in Israel on March 10th, one week before the spring semester started. With typical flexibility and resourcefulness in times of emergency, Technion switched from frontal to online teaching, and the entire semester has been taught remotely, except for lab classes. A recent study showed a high satisfaction rate, as students, faculty, and the entire staff mobilized for the greater good.The response on campus to the challenges of lockdown was truly remarkable.
Within weeks, 50 labs across Technion City were applying their knowledge and research capabilities to tackle COVID-19. Dozens of collaborations with other research institutions and especially hospitals were initiated in diverse fields such as Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, generating tools for decision makers, diagnostics, biosensors and drug delivery, antigens and vaccines, all the way to personalized protective gear for medical staff. As the crisis accelerated, so did the trademark Technion spirit of innovation.
The Technion vision has prepared, shaped, and empowered, the high-tech nation which is the Israel of today.
And then there were the people. Nearly 2,000 Technion employees were sent on leave of absence or forced vacation. Thousands of students lost their jobs and many lost financial support from their families. Technion moved swiftly and decisively. Within a short while we established a Student Emergency Fund, together with Technion societies around the world and in Israel. The response was overwhelming, and we thank you all sincerely.
In cooperation with the Technion Faculty Association we also asked our faculty members to contribute 5% of their salary over three months to help employees in need. The response here was also truly amazing and heartwarming.
I am proud to report that the support provided by the Technion family to its students and staff was unprecedented among Israel universities.
So, what have we learned from the pandemic?
First, we learned how strong and cohesive the Technion family is, and how important this is in times of crisis. The concern and solidarity shown by the Technion family worldwide has been extraordinary. Here at Technion, students, faculty, and administrative staff worked tirelessly to take the semester online, launch new coronavirus research projects, and support communities in need within Technion and in Haifa.
Second, we learned just how agile and innovative Technion is. The ingenuity and improvisation shown by our researchers was remarkable. Some research projects went from drawing board to manufacturing and deployment in hospitals in Israel and the US in just two months.
A student is not a container that you have to fill but a torch you have to light up.
– Albert Einstein
Prior to assuming office, the new administration formulated a strategic plan for Technion, focusing on three directions:
(i) Restructuring research on campus to cut across the traditional boundaries between disciplines, setting up a network of multidisciplinary research institutes focused on grand challenges of the 21st century: Human Health; Energy and Sustainability; and Advanced Manufacturing.
(ii) Adapting our educational approach to match the needs of the 21st century. Developing leadership and entrepreneurial skills among our students; educating them to address societal and environmental challenges and training our students to incorporate these issues in their professional work throughout their careers.
(iii) Responding to the rapidly changing relationship between academia and industry by developing a new ecosystem.
No doubt, this vicious little virus has pushed us all out of our comfort zone into new territory where bold moves are possible, and we intend to seize these opportunities.
When COVID-19 struck, paradoxically, it was as if someone had pressed a “fast forward” button and the importance of these strategic directions increased dramatically overnight. Notwithstanding the financial and health hardships, the crisis has brought with it remarkable new opportunities in education, domestic and international scientific collaborations, and faster lanes to commercialization. Science and technology, especially in the context of human health, which is one of our major development vectors, found themselves once more in center stage.
Online education has provided access to remote communities in Israel and abroad, and facilitated joint courses with other universities and industry, life-long learning, joint projects, and even joint degrees. The technology to do this existed before COVID-19, but the crisis forced us to cross a psychological barrier, and that alone opens new horizons.
Other strategic goals – boosting multidisciplinary research and strengthening collaboration with industry – have also been fast-tracked by the crisis. Traditional barriers between disciplines instantly vanished. IP walls that blocked collaborations for years came down and the rate of technology transfer to industry, as well as the establishment of new startup companies, grew dramatically during the pandemic.
No doubt, this vicious little virus has pushed us all out of our comfort zone into new territory where bold moves are possible, and we intend to seize these opportunities. At the same time, the crisis proved the importance of readiness, the strength that comes with knowledge and advanced research facilities, and above all, mutual support and solidarity among people.
This year’s report focuses on interdisciplinary tales of vision, discovery and application from each field: human health; advanced manufacturing; artificial intelligence; and sustainability. Within each section, we are highlighting the three key aspects of activity: education, research and application. We are also seeking a balance between service to Technion, to Israel, and to humanity.
The selection of stories illustrates Technion Vision 2020: training the vanguard of Israel’s future engineers, doctors and scientists; facilitating advanced research at the highest international level; and the exceptional Technion culture of excellence, pluralism, integrity, ethics, social justice, environmental consciousness, and global cooperation.
Prof. Uri Sivan