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A flight into the unknown

Terminal 3 and a quarter, first class ticket on the wings of imagination. Our researchers are taking off!

Summer is here and suddenly everyone seemed to be packing suitcases and going on vacations across oceans and seas. But what if there was an airplane with another class? Economy, business, first class, and a research class. And what if a ticket to this special seating class would allow our researchers to reach any place they could desire to go in their minds, regardless of time, place or even the size of their bodies?

Our researchers tend to dream big, even huge dreams. Fortunately, we all have their dreams in common: better medicine for all of humanity, advancements in science and all fields of knowledge and culture. Finding remedies for disease, protecting the environment, developing breakthrough technologies, learning about the past of mankind and trying to improve the future.

This is exactly the time to give our researchers a moment of respite and make one of their wildest fantasies come true – if not in reality, then at least in the imagination. We asked them a simple question: If you could move through time, distance or even scale (shrink or grow to any size), to find the discovery that interests you most or to prove a scientific hypothesis, where would you go, who would you meet? Buckle your seatbelts, you’re your engines, our flight is about to take off!

Prof. Colin Price, Exact Sciences (Department of Geophysics)

A flight into the unknown

I would like to travel 50 years into the future and sit on a satellite orbiting the earth to see if weather patterns have changed significantly as a result of the rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Have we managed to move from a fossil fuel economy to renewable energy economies? Or will I see that the world has been dramatically warmed, with the melting of glaciers, coastal cities flooded by rising sea levels, an increase in extreme weather events, massive immigration and global conflicts as a result of global warming?”

Dr. Renana Bartal, Arts (Department of Art History)

A flight into the unknown

 If I could journey back in time, I would go to one of the monasteries in the Middle Ages that had a “scripotorium”, a workshop for the production of manuscripts. The process of producing manuscripts in the Middle Ages was complex and could take several years. The monks were involved in every stage of production, from creating the manuscript’s pages, made of animal skin, the writing, the design of the book and the content of each page, the illustration and the cover.

It’s possible that one person was in charge of managing the entire project, sometimes it was the writer, but sometimes, if it was a manuscript with a complex decorative scheme, the illustrator could also be in charge. Since craftsmen rarely left their names on the pages, it’s not easy to find out who was responsible for what in the production of a medieval book.

Scholars of medieval manuscripts rely on careful observation of the details of the style of writing and illustration, and even the way the book binding and the platform on which it was written were used, to find out when and where the book was produced. I would be happy to go back and be fly on the wall in one of these workshops, to discover how the most complex manuscripts were created, who was in charge of the job, when and how women participated in it, how everyone worked together, how many hours they spent, and what their working conditions were like.”

Dr. Guy Stiebel, Humanities (Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures)

Our past is built like a mosaic or fabric of so many junctions or crucial points that changed the course of history, so there are almost innumerable points where I would be interested in being a “fly on the wall.” On the exterior wall of the Roman Senate building March 15, 44 BCE, as preparation for the assassination of Julius Caesar was going in; Near the Alps when Spartacus decided to give up his freedom and return in the direction of Rome; on the ship of Marcus Antonius in the Battle of Actium, a moment before his decision to withdraw in the trial of Socrates; or at Archimedes’ house in Syracuse when the Romans entered the city; With Alexander the Great in the Battle of Guagamela or with Pliny the Elder in 79 CE, when Mount Vesuvius erupted in southern Italy, and more and more.

On a personal note, as someone who studies Masada, I would be curious to go back to the days before the Passover Seder of 73 BCE, to see whether the way we are reconstructing the community of rebels at Masada and understanding the course of events there matches what actually happened.”

Dr. Liad Mudrik, Neuroscience

A flight into the unknown


For me, there is no greater puzzle than the problem of consciousness: what is the connection between brain activity and our conscious experience? In recent decades, our ability to answer this question has improved, thanks in no small part to advances in the neuroimaging. Still, real solutions are far off; our resolution is still very low, and we don’t currently have the ability to know what every neuron is doing in the brain of an active person, and to understand the connections between the cells themselves (and not only between the regions).
If I had a machine that shrinks things down and launches them to wherever I wanted, I would enlist the entire human race to the task, aside from one test subject and one experimenter (what wouldn’t we do for science…). I would shrink all of us to the size of a few microns, and disperse us in the test subject’s brain while he was doing an experiment that isolated conscious perception versus unconscious perception. There are a lot more brain cells in a single brain than there are humans on Earth, so each person would be responsible for 10-15 neurons, and would record their activity over time, during the experiment. When we all return to normal size, we can collect all the data and build a perfect simulation of the human brain in real time; a simultaneous recording of about 100 billion cells that operate when the subject is conscious or unconscious of stimuli. Then we would only need to understand how to analyze all of this data, but who knows? Maybe it will finally allow us to understand how the experience of consciousness is born out of brain activity.”

So, we’ve visited a manuscript workshop in the Middle Ages, jumped 50 years into the future to see how global warming affected the planet, and even went on an organized group trip into the depths of the human brain. We hope you had a pleasant flight

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Research to cool down your summer

The heat is here, the humidity’s rising, so here are some scientific studies to cool down your brain and refresh your mind

It comes every year, like clockwork. Sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later, but ultimately it’s punctual like any part of mother nature, and it’s finally here now: the heat of July-August in Israel. 

Along with the air conditioners, electric fans and paper fans that have made a comeback in recent years, we thought it couldn’t hurt to add some cool thoughts to refresh your minds. So here are some studies and research projects being carried out at Tel Aviv University that lower the temperature to sub-zero.

Cosmic radiation on Mount Hermon

Somewhere on the summit of Mt. Hermon lies the cosmic radiation laboratory, that arrived here directly from Italy, and even managed a stay in faraway Antarctica. It is a mobile laboratory on wheels, the size of a bus, which has been standing for 20 years above the highest cable car at the ski site. In the winter the temperature on the mountain drops below zero (on the Celsius scale) and the precipitation on it is mostly snow, but even in the summer there are strong winds and the temperature is a lot lower than the coastal plain of Israel, so it’s certainly a plausible escape from the oppressive heat and  humidity in the rest of the country.
A huge “cage” surrounding the lab is designed to protect it from a known winter threat – lightning. It turns out that a lightning strike can completely disrupt the delicate sensor activity in the laboratory, and the “cage” makes sure that in the event of a lightning strike, electricity will flow directly into the ground.
So what are we really testing in this laboratory? According to Prof. Colin Price of the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, “Cosmic radiation is actually small highly energetic particles (electrons and protons) that reach Earth from all directions, both from our sun and also from outer space. The particles pass through the atmosphere, some are absorbed, but the most energetic get to the surface and to the ground, where we can monitor them. To detect these particles you have to be as high as possible, and in our case 2,100 meters above sea level.”
“In the cosmic ray laboratory, we monitor the amount of particles arriving every hour of the day, throughout the year, to learn about processes happening within the sun – such as solar storms, the 11-year solar cycle, as well as what is happening in outer space, even from outside our solar system. All the data from the lab are directly accessible to researchers via the Internet, and used by our students in scientific projects,” explains Prof. Price.

Research to cool down your summer

Genome on ice

 The lowest temperature on Mount Hermon does not go far below the freezing point on the Celsius scale, but in the labs on campus things can be frozen at temperatures of hundreds of degrees below zero. In the laboratory of Prof. Tamir Tuller of the Faculty of Engineering at TAU, researchers are developing methods to decode the rhythm the intracellular complexes called ribosomes travel on the genetic material and translate it into the building blocks of proteins needed by all cells. To decipher their tempo, one must first ‘freeze’ their movement at a certain point in time, and analyze their densities along the genetic material.

The researchers halt all the ribosomes in the cell at a given time (an order of 105 – 106 ribosomes) by combining a chemical that stops the ribosome activity and freezing at a temperature close to minus 196 degrees Celsius. Next, based on the results of the experiment, computational methods and innovative algorithms are used to decode the ribosomes’ movement at the resolution of single nucleotides – the building blocks that make up the genetic material (RNA and DNA).

The information obtained by researchers is essential for the development of novel methods of vaccine generation, the understanding of cancer mutations that will lead to the development of relevant therapies and medicines, the development of efficient plant engineering methods and, generally, a better understanding of the factors influencing evolution and cell activity.

Research to cool down your summer

  Making a breeze

In the Israeli summer, a chilly breeze, natural or artificial, can make the stay outside a bit more tolerable at noon. But what about wind with the power of a hurricane? The wind tunnel in the aerodynamics lab at the Faculty of Engineering is a closed-circuit corridor that is 30 meters long and where the wind speed is so significant and powerful it can reach as much as 200 km/h, which is similar to a third-stage hurricane.

 “Wind tunnels are designed to simulate different flight conditions in an optimal manner and allow the isolation and control of parameters for research purposes,” explains Prof. Avi Seifert, head of the aerodynamics laboratory at the School of Mechanical Engineering. “One of the most important principles in engineering science is a controlled experiment that can be repeated under the same conditions – speed, temperature and pressure.” The advantage of a wind tunnel is that the same conditions can be repeated over and over again, controlling for each parameter.

In the wind tunnel, researchers examine the impact of insects on aircraft in the air, the impact of dust, rain and ice accumulation on aircraft and more. Further studies are being conducted in the laboratory aimed at improving parts of aircraft, vehicles and even wind turbines. For this purpose, we have cooperated with companies such as Airbus, all aeronautical industries in Israel and even the US Army, and of course with universities from Europe and the US, such as Stanford.

Prof. Seifert in the wind tunnel, the aerodynamics laboratory

Research to cool down your summer

Furry ice cream

In the I. Meier Segals Garden for Zoological Research of Tel Aviv University, you will not find penguins and polar bears, because its inhabitants are local animals, naturally adapted to the warm days. The cages in the garden are naturally organized to accommodate the weather, with sunny and shaded areas, but still, how can animals be made more comfortable during the worst of the summer heat?

According to Dr. Ron Elazari-Volcani, chief veterinarian of the TAU Zoological Garden, “On hot days, we combine spraying with a water hose and wetting the cage, hanging up shading nets, climber plants, such as grape vines, that let through the sun in winter and provide shade in the summer. For certain animals, we allow them to dig holes in the ground, which is chillier, or take a dip in the pools.

And what about cool summer treats? “Sometimes we make ‘popsicles’ for the animals, but it’s more of a fun treat than a real strategy to cope with the heat. In the wild animal spends a lot of their day searching for food, so in an environment where food is procured for them it’s important to provide “enrichment” to allow them to lead fuller lives instead of being bored. Creating popsicles for them more a part of enrichment, not our main way of keeping them cool,” Ron concludes.

Research to cool down your summer

The fennec foxes waited for the artichokes to melt and eat the cold fruits and vegetables, leaving no crumbs behind. As befits a desert animal, they seemed to have less interest in the ice itself, preferring the filling.
So now that we’ve cooled down a bit, if not in our the body then certainly in our minds, it can be fun to go outside again, see the clear sky and, despite the sun, continue to enjoying our hot summer before it wanes into autumn.

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Mediterranean summer will be months longer by century’s end

Climate changes will cut winter in the eastern Mediterranean region by half by the late 21st century, researchers have found

The eastern Mediterranean — an area that covers Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and southern Turkey — is experiencing monumental climate changes poised to significantly affect regional ecosystems and human health. According to a new Tel Aviv University study, these changes will alter the duration of summer and winter in the region by the end of this century.

The summer, a dry and hot period of four months, will last for about six months by 2100; the winter, the region’s rainy season, will accordingly shorten from four to just two months.

“Our research shows that the climate changes we are all noticing today are likely to intensify in the coming decades,” says Assaf Hochman of TAU’s School of Geosciences, who led the research. “It is very important to understand this to try to prevent the deterioration as much as possible, or at least prepare for the change.”

The study was overseen by Prof. Pinhas Alpert and conducted by Hochman, Dr. Tzvi Harpaz and Prof. Hadas Saaroni, all of TAU’s School of Geosciences. It was published in the International Journal of Climatology.

The culprit: Greenhouse gases

The research is based on global climate models and points to an expected rise in greenhouse gases as the chief factor responsible for the seasonal changes.

“These projected changes will significantly influence our lives by shrinking and degrading the quality of our water resources, increasing the risk of brushfires, worsening pollution and altering the timing and intensity of seasonal illnesses and other health hazards,” Hochman says.

“One of the main causes of these changes is the growing concentration of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere as a result of human activity. We have sought to examine what is expected in the 21st century as a direct result of the greenhouse effect on the climate.”

Major consequences foreseen

The scientists used an algorithm developed by Prof. Alpert to approach global climate models taken from the World Climate Data Center. They did so to examine the impact of human behavior on climate in the region.

“The conclusions were disturbing. Pending no significant change in current human behavior in the region, the summer is expected to extend by 25% by the middle of the century (2046-2065) and by 49% until its end (2081-2100),” Hochman concludes. “The combination of a shorter rainy season and a longer dry season may cause a major water problem in Israel and neighboring countries.”

The research team is currently engaged in the possible establishment of a multidisciplinary regional center for climate adaptation to minimize the effects of climate changes on the region.

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