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What’s in a pi?

March 14h is International Pi Day. Why do we celebrate it? Is pi still relevant 4,000 years after being discovered? And is peach pie better than cherry?

What’s the best kind of pie? And what’s the perfect crust-to-filling ratio? Mankind has been struggling with these questions since the dawn of baked goods, which is probably about as long as the number pi has been known to us.

Although Pi Day was first celebrated in the 1980s, the number pi (represented as the Greek letter π) was first discovered about 4,000 years ago. The ratio of a circle’s circumference to the circle’s diameter, pi is always the same, whether you’re measuring a penny or a truck tire. Not only that, but pi is an “irrational” number – no matter how many digits of pi we calculate, we’ll never be able to predict which digit comes next. 

We decided to ask Ofir Gorodetsy, a PhD student at the School of Mathematical Sciences at Tel Aviv University, about the significance of pi.

“The decimal expansion of π starts with 3.14,” Ofir said. “Which is why we celebrate Pi Day on March 14th every year. And aside from being known to Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, pi is also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, where the approximation 3 is used to measure the circumference of a circle.”

Too much pi?

Although most people are familiar with pi as being 3.14, mathematicians have been struggling to find the other digits of pi for centuries. According to Ofir, “figuring out the digits of pi gets pretty difficult after a dozen or so. Many scholars from all over the world have tried to find more and more digits: Archimedes, Liu Hui, Brahmagupta, Fibonacci, Isaac Newton. In the 18th century a mathematician even came up with proof that the digits of pi don’t follow any pattern, so they never repeat in any predictable way.”

According to Ofir, figuring out the digits of pi is much easier these days. Even freshmen at university can calculate as many digits as they’d like, using modern tools.

But the magic of pi is not only its length, but how common it is in the natural world. The disk of the sun, the pupil of our eyes, the ripples in a pond, even the way rivers tend to bend and flow can be described using pi. It’s used in the work of biologists, engineers, geographers, physicsts, mathematicians. Almost every discipline that deals with the world around us crosses paths with this unique number at some point. 

So why do we celebrate Pi Day? Probably because math is at its most delicious when it’s fresh out of the oven.

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Medicine & Health

New blood test could detect genetic disorders during first trimester

Test could map the fetal genome and detect innumerable diseases caused by minuscule impairments, Tel Aviv University researchers say

Tel Aviv University researchers have developed a new blood test for genetic disorders that may allow parents to learn about the health of their baby as early as 11 weeks into pregnancy.

The simple blood test lets doctors diagnose genetic disorders in fetuses early in pregnancy by sequencing small amounts of DNA in the mother’s and the father’s blood. A computer algorithm harnessing the results of the sequencing would then produce a “map” of the fetal genome, predicting mutations with 99% or better accuracy depending on the mutation type.

Prof. Noam Shomron of TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine led the research, which was conducted by TAU graduate student Tom Rabinowitz with Avital Polsky, Artem Danilevsky, Guy Shapira and Chen Raff, all from Prof. Shomron’s lab. The study is a collaboration with Dr. David Golan of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Prof. Lina Basel-Salmon and Dr. Reut Tomashov-Matar of Rabin Medical Center. It was published on February 20 in the journal Genome Research.

A safe and simple procedure

“Noninvasive prenatal tests are already available for chromosome disorders such as Down syndrome,” Prof. Shomron says. “Our new procedure is based on fetal DNA fragments that circulate freely in maternal blood and bears only a minimal risk for the mother and fetus compared with such invasive techniques as the amniotic fluid test. We will now be able to identify numerous mutations and diseases in a safe and simple procedure available at the doctor’s office.

“The genetic mechanism behind Down syndrome affects a very large portion of the genome and therefore is easier to detect,” Prof. Shomron explains. “We performed upgraded noninvasive fetal genotyping, using a novel approach and an improved algorithm, to detect many other diseases that are caused by smaller parts of the genome. This is like looking at a map of the world and noticing not only that a continent is missing, but also that a single house is missing.

“The practical applications are endless: a single blood test that would detect a wide range of genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis and many others.”

An algorithm for DNA

Prof. Shomron and colleagues tested blood samples from three families at Rabin Medical Center in the 11th week of gestation. They extracted maternal and paternal DNA from their white blood cells and fetal DNA from a placental cell sample. They also extracted circulating cell-free fetal DNA from the maternal blood.

“We sequenced all these DNA samples and created a computer algorithm that utilizes the parental DNA as well as the cell-free fetal DNA to reconstruct the fetal genome and predict mutations,” says Prof. Shomron. “We compared our predictions to the true fetal DNA originating from the placenta. Our model is the first to predict small inherited insertions and deletions. The method described can serve as a general framework for noninvasive prenatal diagnoses.”

The researchers are working on further improving the accuracy of the method and extending it to detect even more types of mutations.



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Medicine & Health

Cannabis to treat cancer? Israeli scientist thinks so

(CJN article) from March 5, 2019

“Cannabis and some of its derivative compounds have been shown to relieve the symptoms of cancer and some side effects of cancer treatment, but an Israeli scientist is researching the plant’s potential as an actual therapy.

Dan Peer, chair of the Tel Aviv Cancer Biology Research Centre, is studying the use of cannabinoids, the chemical constituents of the plant, in treating some kinds of cancer, and has had encouraging results in mice.

Canada, with its pioneering expertise in the medical potential of cannabis, is an ideal partner for research and development in the field, he suggested.

Peer, who’s also the managing director of Tel Aviv University’s Centre for Translational Medicine and was recently appointed vice-dean of life sciences, discussed his work with the Canadian Friends of the Tel Aviv University (CFTAU) on Feb. 26 at the Kandy Gallery in Montreal.


Read more here…

Cannabis to treat cancer? Israeli scientist thinks so

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Honours & Awards

TAU scholar named Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters

Dr. Sefy Hendler received the highest decoration awarded by the French Ministry of Culture

Dr. Sefy Hendler, head of the Department of Art History at Tel Aviv University, has been named Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, one of the highest decorations awarded by the French Ministry of Culture. The title was given to him for “his commitment to the service of French culture”.

He received the decoration from the hands of the French Ambassador to Israel, Mrs. Hélène Le Gal, during a ceremony that took place on February 18, at the French Embassy in Tel Aviv.

“I think that in our country, fed by American culture, there is room for other voices,” he said. “The French voice, according to which I have been educated for many years, is among the most important, especially because it is different, and I wish that my students, as well as the other people who come to the University, will be exposed to this aspect of culture “.

Personalities who received this award in the past include British poet and playwright T. S. Eliot, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, American writer Paul Auster, actress Sharon Stone, as well as Israeli authors Amos Oz, David Grossman, Ohad Naharin, Haim Gouri et Zeruya Shalev.

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Honours & Awards

TAU Confers Honorary Doctorate on Pioneer in Internet Technology

Prof. Amnon Yariv honored for decades of breakthrough research in optoelectronics

In recognition of his indelible mark in the field of integrated optics technology, Tel Aviv University awarded an honorary doctorate to Prof. Amnon Yariv, the Martin and Eileen Summerfield Professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). The conferment ceremony was held at the Raya and Joseph Jaglom Auditorium in the George S. Wise Senate Building. Prof. Yariv is a member of and visiting lecturer at TAU’s Mortimer and Raymond Sackler Institute of Advanced Studies.

With a plethora of awards and honors, including the prestigious National Medal of Science presented by President Barak Obama in 2010, Prof. Yariv is widely credited with transforming the optical communications industry. His research group, which focuses on the theoretical and technological underpinning of optical communication, has generated numerous technologies, not the least of which was the invention of the semiconductor distributed feedback laser. This device enabled the transmission of mass data via phone, video, cable and the Internet, which has profoundly influenced society and culture across the globe.

Israeli-born Prof. Yariv fought in Israel’s War of Independence from 1948-1950, before leaving for the US. He completed his BSc, MSc and PhD in electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, taking on his first role as Research Associate there in 1958. He then spent five years on the technical staff of Bell Telephone Laboratories, before returning to academia in 1964 as a professor of electrical engineering at CalTech, where he remains today.

In his tribute to Prof. Yariv, TAU Rector Yaron Oz spoke of how TAU awards honorary doctorates to those who are visionaries in their field — to those who create new realities instead of merely improving on what exists. “The ability to set a vision far beyond imagination and bridge the gap between vision and reality, this is the paths of excellence that led you here today,” said Prof. Oz.

Presenting the award along with Prof. Oz was TAU Vice President Raanan Rein. Among the guests in attendance were: Prof. Yossi Rosenwaks, Dean of the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering; Prof. Avraham Gover, Head, Israeli Free Electron Laser Knowledge Center for Radiation Sources and Applications, Faculty of Engineering;  and Prof. (Emeritus) Emanuel Marom, former Dean of Engineering.

Featured image: From left: Prof. Yaron Oz, Prof. Amnon Yariv and Prof. Raanan Rein Photo: Yehonatan Zur

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