Redefining part of 300 year-old classification system for grouping members of the animal kingdom

New “molecular fingerprint” of animal kingdom emerges from gene regulation survey

An international team of biologists has identified the molecular signature of the animal kingdom, providing genetic evidence for an animal classification that has been used for nearly 300 years. Their research, published this week in the journal Nature, offers a historic dataset for the field, serving developmental biologists, evolutionary biologists, and computational biologists alike.

Professor Itai Yanai

The study was led by Professor Itai Yanai of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Department of Biology, in cooperation with research teams in Australia, Germany, the US, and Israel. The research team investigated an extremely diverse set of animal species, applying an extremely powerful technique called CEL-Seq, developed in 2012 by Dr. Tamar Hashimshony in the Yanai lab. CEL-Seq allows for the monitoring of the activity of all genes in individual cells, and the team used it to analyze gene regulation in 70 embryos in each of ten species.

The researchers found a striking pattern of universality across the species. Between phases of similar genes turned ‘on’ at the beginning and the end of development, a mid-developmental transition was discovered. This newly discovered gene regulatory pattern explains how the differences among animals develop and evolve, which allows biology to now have molecular means to define the specific properties of groups of species.

Their work further defines a category of animal life under-defined since 1735 when Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, recognized as the father of the biological classification of organisms, proposed a two-name classification system for the world’s plants and also animals classified animals into “families” based on similarities and differences in body “plans.” The work sheds new light on how, at the molecular and genetic levels, animals of different body designs (whether they have a true spinal column (mammals) or just a nerve cord (chordates) have evolved to be different and why.

Nearly eight million different species of animals are thought to inhabit the planet, covering a striking exuberance of diversity. For example, animals span five orders of magnitude of adult body sizes. Prof. Yanai’s team began this research by asking what is common to all animals. To tackle this question, they chose ten of the most different animals one could choose: a fish, a worm, a fly, a water bear, a sponge, and five others, each of a different phylum (a term coined by German naturalist Ernst Haeckel in the 19th century to describe a group of animals with the same body plan). About 35 phyla are typically recognized, however it remains controversial with contention over whether this is a meaningful classification and, if so, what attributes are the same, or different across all animals.

Inverse hourglass model for the origin of phyla compared with the hourglass model for within phylum evolution

“We selected species representing ten different animal phyla,” said Prof. Yanai. “For each phyla we determined the gene expression profile of all genes from the development of the fertilized egg to the free-living larvae. We found a surprising pattern of gene expression conservation in all species occurring at a pivotal, transitional period in development.”

By studying the molecular programs of development in ten very different animals, the researchers found that all of the animals they studied express two distinct “modules” of genetic expression. (A module is a set of genes – similar across the organisms – that are turned ‘on.’) During the transition between the modules, mechanisms of cell signaling and regulation occur.

With this new knowledge, the researchers proposed a definition for phylum as “a set of species sharing the same signals and transcription factor networks during the mid-developmental transition.” In other words, they clarified the definition by suggesting that those organisms sharing a phylum, formerly by virtue of body design alone, also share a unique and similar genetic and molecular transition that other species do not.

To demonstrate their proposal, the researchers developed an “hourglass model” that captures gene expression differences between species. The inverse hourglass model shows the origin of phyla compared with the hourglass model that demonstrates “within phylum evolution.”

Embryonic development is called the “phylotypic” stage. This is when the embryo begins to assume recognizable features typical of vertebrates. The phylotypic stage represents a general layout on which specialized features—such as the turtle’s shell, the pig’s snout, or your large brain—can be mounted later in development.

The researchers proposed that during the phyletic transition period, properties specific to each phylum are genetically encoded. Their emerging dataset, they said, will be useful in studying the hallmarks of animal body plan formation from the embryonic stage.

As with many scientific discoveries, the researchers suggest that their work “raises more questions than it answers.” For example, “what molecular pathways underlie phyletic transition in each phylum? Why are the phyletic-transition mechanisms so relatively susceptible to change? Is the coupling of the conserved modules universal to all multicellular life?”

“The transition we identified may be a hallmark of development only in animals,” the researchers concluded. “Or, future work may show that this is a general characteristic of development in all multicellular life.”

Despite the diversity of body structures in mature animals (bottom), the embryos look very much alike at the phylotypic stage

Improves potential of solar to become a major energy source

HAIFA, ISRAEL (February 18th, 2016) – A patented breakthrough by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology improves the efficiency of organic photovoltaic cells by 50 percent, and could someday provide a huge boost for the viability of solar power as a major source of energy. The researchers recently published their findings in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Organic photovoltaic cells convert solar energy into electric power through organic molecules. One of their advantages over “traditional” solar cells made of silicon is that they can be mounted on lightweight, flexible, and easy-to-replace sheets, which can be spread on roofs and buildings like wallpaper, converting solar energy into electrical current. In the future, they could also be used to provide a cost-efficient and reliable source of electricity in isolated regions.

Despite the advantages of organic cells, their conversion potential to this point has not been fully utilized, according to lead researcher Professor Nir Tessler, of the Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering, and director of the Wolfson Microelectronic Center and of the Sarah and Moshe Zisapel Nanoelectronics Center at the Technion.

“In our study, we found that the organic photovoltaic cell’s efficiency and electricity production are limited by structural aspects,” he explains. “We have proved that the limitations are related not to the material, but to the device structure. We have developed an addition to the existing systems, improving the efficiency of converting solar energy into electric current inside the cell from 10% (a level considered to be “high efficiency”) to 15% (the level at which industry experts say organic solar cells will be cost-effective), and adding 0.2 volts to the cell’s voltage.”

The development is based on increasing the energy gap between the electrodes by changing their fixed position in the system. By doing so, the researchers were able to increase the voltage, leading to an increase in system power. “This improvement is significant for the relevant industry, and it was achieved by focusing on structural changes in the device, versus developing new materials, a common approach by researchers in this field. It seems as if we have stretched the laws of physics with the aid of engineering.”

Prof. Tessler estimates that he and his team will complete the development of a prototype system within a year.

Link to the article in the Journal of Applied Physics

Vigor Medical Technologies Ltd., operating within the framework of the Technion’s T-Factor Start-Up Launch Program, takes first place (out of 150 companies) in the iNNOVEX Competition. The company developed a novel device that enables the safe insertion of medical instruments into the chest area.

iNNOVEX 2016

Presentation of the “2016 Most Innovative Israeli Start-Up Award” to Vigor Medical Technologies at the 2016 iNNOVEX competition

Vigor Medical Technologies Ltd. won first prize at the annual iNNOVEX Competition, and in so doing has been named the most innovative and promising Israeli start-up for 2016. The competition, which was held jointly by Google and the OurCrowd Foundation, attracted some 150 young start-up companies developing novel products expected to have great impact on the lives of many.

Vigor – a start-up developing devices to prevent lung and heart collapse – was established a year and a half ago by Dr. John Abeles, an American physician from Florida who was also the company’s first financial investor, Irina Kavounovski, a Technion graduate from the Faculty of Chemical Engineering who is currently serving as the company’s CEO, and her father Igor Waysbeyn who is the company’s CTO; Waysbeyn specializes in emergency medicine and holds a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Vigor developed a plastic mechanism to treat chest trauma. Thoracic related trauma, which accounts for approximately 4 million cases a year worldwide, is the major cause of death in accidents. Medical treatment offered at such events involves the insertion of drains and surgical tools to the chest area. The ability to provide such treatment within the first hour after traumatic injury – often referred to as the “golden hour” – is critical as it typically determines the fate of the victim in about 80% of cases. However, such medical intervention can be very dangerous because it could potentially damage internal tissues in the chest.

Today, abdominal laparoscopic surgery (minimally invasive) is done using access devices (Trocar), through which surgical tools are inserted and manipulated. The problem is that this device is dangerous for use in chest surgery, as it may damage internal tissues and cause serious or even fatal injuries, especially when used out in the field by paramedics.

Vigor’s product changes the game rules: it allows medical personnel, including paramedics and medics, to perform the treatment without fear of inflicting damage. This product, unlike Trocar devices used in abdominal surgery, allows simple and quick replacement of its drains, so it is also suitable for make-shift field conditions.

Vigor’s product is suitable for treating penetrating trauma (caused by gunshot or stabbing) as well as blunt force trauma (caused by impact such as from a fall, traffic accidents, or other). It becomes fixated to the chest walls and creates a permanently sealed passage that prevents the infiltration and escape of air and liquids, and allows the fixation of the drain for the removal of fluids and air from the chest. The product has been adapted for use in civilian rescue services (such as Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA)) military emergency response units, emergency departments and trauma centers, and to treat patients after chest and abdominal surgery.

The company started out within the framework of the start-up accelerator program MassChallenge in Boston, and went on to take part in the Technion’s T-Factor Start-Up Launch Program. David Shem Tov, the Director of T-Factor, emphasizes that Vigor was the first company to join the accelerator program and is expected to complete its seed stage soon. “This is our goal,” he explains, “to provide Technion researchers, students and alumni with assistance in launching start-ups implementing their innovations. We accompany them through the initial stages, provide them with access to Technion’s technological environment, give them financial support, and do everything in our power to help them build their company.”

In less than two years Vigor’s product completed development and entered preclinical trials, and is expected to soon begin the necessary processes for approvals by the regulatory authorities in the United States (FDA) and Europe (CE). Vigor’s CEO Irina Kavounovski expressed her gratitude, “Technion accompanied us closely both with funding and training, and the Technion Society in France (ATF) directed us towards potential investors and fitting business competitions in France. Here in Israel we received assistance from the Chief Scientist and our product received very positive feedback from the MDA’s chief paramedic. We believe that this win here at iNNOVEX 2016 will open-up more doors and opportunities for potential investors and for growing our contacts in the medical world.”

Photo (right to left) Liz Leibovitz, architect Moshe Tzur, Azrieli Foundation Chairman Danna Azrieli, Noa Gantz and Amit Chelouche Photo Credit: Raphael Delouya

Photo (right to left) Liz Leibovitz, architect Moshe Tzur, Azrieli Foundation Chairman Danna Azrieli, Noa Gantz and Amit Chelouche
Photo Credit: Raphael Delouya

A great honor for the Technion Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning: Two students at the Faculty have won first and second place in the David Azrieli Prize competition for projects by architecture students.

Liz Leibowitz won first place (NIS 60,000) for her work, Musha Musha: A new look at Tel Aviv’s “Hatikva” Neighborhood and a proposal to encourage private initiatives by the neighborhood’s residents. Noa Gantz won second place (NIS 25,000) for her work, Minus 400: Rethinking the meeting between man and the environment at the Dead Sea. Third place (NIS 15,000) went to Amit Chelouche of Bezalel for his work, Total Stage.

The award ceremony was held earlier this week at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, with the participation of leading figures in the world of architecture. This year, the Azrieli Foundation in Israel, headed by Chairman Danna Azrieli, rebranded the award in memory of David Azrieli and increased the value of prizes to NIS 100,000. Fifteen projects by students at schools of architecture throughout Israel participated in the competition.

The event was attended by a special guest, who also served on the panel of judges: Odile Decq, one of the most prominent architects in France. Decq planned and designed major projects around the world, including the new wing at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, a unique restaurant in the historic building of the Opera Garnier in Paris, and a series of projects in China and North Africa. Decq was highly impressed by the thought, initiative and creativity expressed in the work of the young architects.

The David Azrieli Prize is the highlight of the work of all students of architecture in Israel, and provides an incentive for their excellence.

Danna Azrieli, Chairman of the Israel Azrieli Foundation and the Azrieli Group, said: “This is the 12th year that we have awarded the Azrieli Prize for projects by architecture students, which aims to recognize and strengthen creativity, originality and quality of architecture among architecture students in Israel. This award reflects the values that accompanied my father over the years: commitment to promote quality education, striving to develop the field of architecture, and love of Israel. I congratulate the winners and I have no doubt that the work, wisdom and creativity shared by all the students will shape the future of architecture in Israel.”

“Excellence in education is the main goal of the Technion Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning,” said Faculty Dean Prof. Yehuda Kalay. “The Faculty is committed to train skilled and responsible architects, urban planners, landscape architects and industrial designers, who will be at the forefront of the processes and changes in Israeli society in particular, and humanity in general.

“The David Azrieli Prize is the highlight of the work of all students of architecture in Israel, and provides an incentive for their excellence. We are proud of the accomplishments of Liz Leibowitz and Noa Gantz, and congratulate their teachers – Gabi Schwarz, Fatina Abreek-Zubiedat and Ronen Ben Arieh (Liz Leibowitz’s advisors), and Shmaya Serfaty and Yonatan Natanian (Noa Gantz’s advisors).”

So said John Connolly, senior engineer at NASA and director of the Space Studies Program of the International Space University (ISU), which will come to the Technion this summer

ISU SSP Director John Connolly

ISU SSP Director John Connolly

When John Connolly lectures to children and young people he asks the audience, “Who was the first man on the moon?” – and the answer comes immediately: Neil Armstrong. When he asks who the second man on the moon was, the crowd falls silent, until Connolly discloses the first name “Buzz” and the young audience calls out in unison: “Lightyear!”

John Connolly, a senior figure in the aerospace industry, is rather pleased with the representation of space science in film and in art in general. He often advises movie producers, including the producers of the new movie, The Martian, and is well-versed in science fiction. “Ultimately, the way culture reflects reality in the field of space helps instill an awareness of the importance of NASA and other space agencies,” he says. “Movies, TV series and books assimilate space in the public consciousness, reflect the tremendous curiosity that drives us and present the challenges that we face in space.”

Of course, the popularity of space in movies also has its disadvantages. “Sometimes these movies do not place sufficient emphasis on the difficulty and the challenge. Sometimes people say to me: ‘Why invest so much in sending people to Mars? I recently saw a movie where it had already been done.’ Nevertheless, movies show the human side, especially the curiosity and the coping, and that is of great value.”

Connolly spent last week at the Technion in his capacity as director of the Space Studies Program of the International Space University (ISU), which has chosen the Technion as the site of its prestigious summer semester this year. He was accompanied by all the academic managers of the ISU, in order to plan the schedule of the program and visit the classrooms, dorms and all the other relevant sites.

Around 150 space experts will participate in the Space Studies Program (SSP) to be held this summer at the Technion, along with nearly 150 participants from academia and industry, astronauts and directors of space agencies from around the world. “We do not call them students because these are people with experience whose average age is 32,” says Connolly. The participants are carefully selected, based on the concept that they will be the space leaders of the future. Indeed, graduates of the International Space University’s program already hold senior positions throughout the global aerospace industry.

“Space is becoming more and more international,” Connolly explains. “Missions are bigger and more complex, like the International Space Station, for example, and require cooperation among agencies and among countries. That’s why the International Space University operates in a different place in the world each year – last year at Ohio University and this year (2016) in Israel, at the Technion.”

The intensive program that will take place at the Technion this summer will also include events open to the general public, including a robotics competition, rocket launches, space-related movie productions and a professional panel discussion about the Columbia space shuttle disaster. “We very much hope to bring Buzz Aldrin to the Technion. He was recently appointed Chancellor of ISU,” he says.

The program that will take place this summer at the Technion will mark the end of Connolly’s tenure as the head of the Space Studies Program at ISU, and he will return to NASA, which loaned him to run the SSP and the Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program (SH-SSP) of the International Space University for a limited period.

Connolly came to NASA in 1987 as a young engineer after graduating from college, after working for a short time as a “plain old rocket scientist,” and since then he has gradually advanced within the organization. “As a boy I would often launch improvised rockets, draw spaceships and follow the Apollo missions, and an invitation to work at NASA was obviously an offer that I couldn’t refuse. It’s a great honor to make your dream come true and even get paid a salary. NASA people are paid the same salary as other government workers in the US, so you’ll never get rich, but I never considered giving up my job here. “

His current position at NASA is human space exploration engineer, which means the engineer responsible for planning robotic flights to Mars and the Moon, which are supposed to prepare the ground for future manned delegations. The non-manned delegations are supposed to test the environmental conditions (radiation, temperature, dust, etc.) and land the necessary equipment for the astronauts who will arrive in the future.

“There’s a lot more work to be done in this area, and that’s wonderful,” he says. “Humanity wants to go to Mars, and I’m glad to be part of this step. Maybe in the more distant future there will even be a permanent settlement on Mars – not because there’s no room on the planet Earth, but because man is a curious creature by nature. If you put a one-year-old baby on the floor, he’ll crawl to the low cabinets and will try to open them – because he’s curious. The same holds true for adults: mankind wants to find out what’s on the other side of the mountain, the other side of the sea, the other side of the ocean. And that’s the whole story with voyages into space – space is the next ocean that we want to cross in order to discover what’s just beyond our reach.”  

The Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering is now named for Prof. Andrew Viterbi and his late wife, Erna
Viterbi, co-founder of Qualcomm, is the inventor of the Viterbi Algorithm, which is used in most smartphones today and in data terminals, digital satellite broadcast receivers, and deep space telemetry.

- Right to left: Prof. Boaz Golani, Alan and Caryn Viterbi, Professor Andrew Viterbi, Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie and Dean of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering Prof. Ariel Orda.

– Right to left: Prof. Boaz Golani, Alan and Caryn Viterbi, Professor Andrew Viterbi, Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie and Dean of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering Prof. Ariel Orda.

The Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering (EE) has been named for Prof. Andrew Viterbi and his late wife, Erna. The plaque bearing the new name of the Faculty was unveiled December 8 at a festive ceremony held at the Technion with the participation of Prof. Viterbi, his son Alan and daughter-in-law Caryn, Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie, the Technion management and EE alumni.

Andrew Viterbiis the inventor of the Viterbi algorithm – a mathematical formula underlying the operation of many of today’s mobile devices. The Viterbi algorithm enables quick and accurate decoding of many simultaneous signals and helps neutralize signal interference. The mathematical formula is used in all four international standards for digital mobile phones, as well as in data terminals, digital satellite broadcast receivers and deep space telemetry. The algorithm is also used in DNA analysis and identification software.

Prof. Andrew Viterbi, one of the most influential figures in the digital world and co-founder of Qualcomm, has made a significant and outstanding donation of $50 million to the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, with the aim of establishing the Technion’s status as a leading institution in the field of electrical engineering and computer engineering in Israel and around the world.Prof. Viterbi’s donation will enable the Technion to recruit and retain first-rate faculty, as well as outstanding graduate students in the fields of electrical and computer engineering, and to upgrade its teaching and research infrastructure.

“We are deeply grateful to Andrew Viterbi,” said Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie. “His and his beloved late wife Erna’s longstanding involvement with the Technion and his understanding of the vital impact of electrical engineering on the State of Israel will help the Technion recruit the best and brightest students and faculty members. Prof. Andrew Viterbi is, first and foremost, a family man, and this is reflected throughout his lifetime, since he was a little boy who fled with his family from the terror of the fascist regime in Italy, through his career as a renowned professor to his being an inventor and a technology leader. Prof. Viterbi is part of the Technion family and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering family. Hannukah is a family holiday, and no time could be more suitable for celebrating the naming of the faculty after him and his late wife, Erna.”

Prof. Andrew Viterbi (on the right, with Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie)

Prof. Andrew Viterbi (on the right, with Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie)

“Viterbi and communications – these are synonyms.You can’t mention one without mentioning the other.”So said Distinguished Professor Emeritus Jacob Ziv who, together with Prof. Avraham Lempel, developed the Lempel-Ziv data compression algorithm, which played a key role in making the Internet a global communications medium.“Prof. Viterbi is a true pioneer in the fields of electrical engineering and computer engineering.The Viterbi algorithm underlies many of the technologies currently being developed in the fields of communications and information.We are very proud that the Faculty of Electrical Engineering will bear his name.”

“The Viterbi family’s donation guarantees that we will be able to continue to be a center of academic excellence and fulfill our role of advancing the State of Israel’s security and prosperity,” said Prof. Ariel Orda, Dean of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. “Professor Viterbi gave us another gift, which is impossible to estimate in mere figures, but whose value is far greater. It is a rare combination for a Faculty to be affiliated with the name of a scientific and technological giant while teaching his scientific contributions in advanced courses of its curriculum.”

Prof. Andrew Viterbi

Prof. Andrew Viterbi

Prof. Viterbi’s ties with the Technion developed as long ago as 1967, when he delivered a series of lectures here during his sabbatical from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. These roots have developed and deepened since then, and therefore Prof. Viterbi’s name is well known to engineering students at the Technion. In 2000, he was named a Technion Distinguished Visiting Professor of Electrical Engineering.

Together with his late wife, Erna Finci Viterbi, Prof. Viterbi has a long history of support for the Technion and the State of Israel. He has been named a Guardian of the Technion, a designation reserved for those who have reached the highest level of support of the Technion. The Viterbis’ gifts to the Technion have included the Andrew J. and Erna F. Viterbi Chair in Information Systems/Computer Science, held by Prof. Oded Shmueli; the Andrew and Erna Finci Viterbi Center for Advanced Studies in Computer Technology at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering; and the Andrew and Erna Finci Viterbi Fellowship Program.

Prof. Andrew Viterbi with his son Alan (left) and Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie (right)

Prof. Andrew Viterbi with his son Alan (left) and Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie (right)

At the festive ceremony held at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie awarded Prof. Andrew Viterbi the Technion Medal – the highest award granted by the Technion for lifetime achievement. The Medal was awarded to Prof. Viterbi for his “decades-long devotion to the Technion as a Distinguished Visiting Professorimparting his pioneering insights; in gratitude for his support of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars and the recruitment of new faculty; and with appreciation for his transformational gift to the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, that will secure and enhance the Technion’s leadership position in electrical and computer engineering in Israel and globally, and will ensure that the high-tech innovation that is vital to Israel’s economy and defense continues for generations to come.”

“I am extremely proud to have my name associated with the Technion, one of the world’s leading science and technology institutions,” said Dr. Viterbi at the ceremony. “Technion Electrical Engineering graduates are in large part responsible for creating and sustaining Israel’s high-tech industry, which has been essential for Israel’s economic success. To meet the challenges facing us, we must promote the intensive recruitment of new faculty and enter into the emerging research fields.”

- Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie gives Prof. Viterbi the Technion Medal

– Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie gives Prof. Viterbi the Technion Medal

The Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering, which is included in the list of the world’s top ten faculties of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has played a crucial role in the development of Israel’s hi-tech industry and in turning Israel into a start-up nation.In early 1970s, the Faculty driving force was essential in creating the infrastructure and knowledge in microelectronics and developments that played a key role in the economic growth of the high-tech industry and the security of the State of Israel.In the following decades, the Faculty paved the way for a series of disciplines, including computer engineering, telecommunications, microelectronics, optoelectronics, nanotechnology and quantum technology.

Over the past twenty years, Technion alumni have been responsible for the establishment and management of more than 1,600 companies that have led to the creation of one hundred thousand jobs; around 35% of these companies were founded by alumni of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering.

“It is impossible to imagine Israel’s transformation into a world leader in science, technology and innovation without the Technion, and in particular the researchers, students and alumni of its Faculty of Electrical Engineering,” wrote Minister of Education Naftali Bennett in a special letter sent today to Prof. Viterbi. “Your gift will ensure that the newly-named Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering will continue to be a center of world class research and education, providing Israel with future generations of engineers and scientists at the forefront of our dynamic, high-tech economy.”

Prof. Andrew Viterbi

Prof. Andrew Viterbi

The ceremony was also attended by alumni of the Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering.Many of them are now senior members of Israel’s high-tech industry: the founders of the Rad-Bynet Group, Yehuda and Zohar Zisapel, Apple Israel CEO Aharon Aharon, Qualcomm Israel CEO Aric Mimran, former Qualcomm CEO Eyal Bar-David, and many others.

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The moon is thought to have formed from the debris of a small planet that collided with the Earth. Since the composition of other planets in the Solar system differs from that of the Earth, it was expected that the moon composition would also differ from that of the Earth.

Surprisingly, the composition of the Earth and the Moon are very similar, raising a major challenge to the “giant impact” origin of the Moon. A new study by researchers from the Technion and Nice University explains the origin of such composition similarity and helps to solve this conundrum  

The Moon has fascinated human kind since the earliest days of history. It has played a central role in the making of annual calendars in Muslim, Jewish and other cultures; and was considered one of the gods in many pagan traditions.  Questions regarding the origin of the Moon, its shape and composition gave rise to myths and legends that have accompanied humanity for thousands of years, and even today many children ask themselves – and their parents – whether the moon is made of cheese.

In the modern era such millennium-old puzzles have been replaced by scientific exploration that raised no-less challenging questions, which continueto perplex us – even 40 years after man first landed on the moon. Now, a research done by Technion researchers sheds a new light on the origins of the Moon and its composition. The research, published in Nature, was lead by post-doctoral researcher Dr. Alessandra Mastrobuono-Battist and her adviser Assistant Prof. Hagai Perets from the Technion, in collaboration with Dr. Sean Raymond from Nice University.

 “Many models for the Moon origin were suggested by scientists, but since the 1980s the scientific community has been focusing on the most promising model  – the so called ‘giant impact’ paradigm,” explains Perets. “According to this model, the moon was formed following a collision between a small Mars-like planet (usually called Theia) and the ancient Earth. Some of the debris from the collision fell back to Earth, some was scattered far into space and the rest went into orbit around the Earth. This orbiting debris later coagulated to form a single object: the moon.”.

 Based on complex simulations of such collisions, researchers have found out that most of the material that eventually forms the Moon comes from the impactor,  Theia, and only a smaller fraction originates from the impacted body (in this case, the Earth). Measurements of the composition of other bodies in the Solar system such as asteroids and Mars have shown that they have a very different composition from that of the Earth. Given that most of the Moon material came from another body in the Solar system, it was xpected that the composition of the Moon should be similarly very different from that of the Earth, according to the “giant impact” model. However, analysis of samples brought from the moon by the Apollo missions showed otherwise – in terms of composition, the Earth and Moon are almost twins, their compositions are almost the same, differing by at most few parts in a million.

This contradiction has cast a long shadow on the ‘giant impact’ model, and for some 30 years this contradiction was a major challenge to physicists grappling with the  formation of the moon. Now, Mastrobuono-Battisti, Perets and Raymond have suggested a new solution to this mystery.

 Simulations of the formation of planets in the solar system, showed that different planets indeed have distinct compositions, as found from the analysis of material from different planets in the Solar system. Such studies have traditionally focused on studying only the compositions of the final planets, in the new research, Perets and collaborators have considered not only the planets, but also the composition of the impactors on these planets. Consequently they have discovered that in many cases, the planets and the bodies that collide with them share a very similar composition, even though they formed independently. Thus, conclude the researchers, the similarity between the moon and Earth stems from the similarity between Theia – from which the moon was formed – and Earth. “It turns out that an impactor is not similar to any other random body in the Solar system. The Earth and Theia appear to have shared much more similar environments during their growth than just any two unrelated bodies,” explains Mastrobuono-Battisti. “In other words, Theia and Earth were formed in the same region, and have therefore collected similar material. These similar living environments also led them eventually to collide; and the material ejected mostly from Theia, ultimately formed the moon. Our results reconcile what has been perceived as a contradiction between the process whereby moons are formed (from matter from the impacting body) and the similarity between Earth and the moon”. “The Earth and the Moon might not be twins born of the same body”, summarizes Perets, “but they did grow up together in the same neighborhood.”


While chemotherapy is often a life-saving treatment for cancerous tumors, choosing the right chemo for each patient remains an unmet clinical challenge. Furthermore, current chemotherapies cause harsh side effects and damage healthy organs alongside the tumors.

“We want physicians to have better tools for predicting which drugs would be best for each patient, and get them to the target site more efficiently,” says Prof. of Chemical Engineering Avi Schroeder, Head of the Technion Laboratory for Targeted Drug Delivery and Personalized Medicine Technologies.

Prof. Avi Schroeder

Prof. Avi Schroeder

Drug delivery systems in use today surprisingly dispatch only 10% or less of a drug dose to the tumor, with the remaining 90% distributed elsewhere in the body. “It’s better than untargeted systems, but it’s far from ideal,” says Prof. Schroeder.

Schroeder and his team are developing nanosized “factories” that manufacture protein-based cancer drugs inside the body upon reaching the tumor site. Mimicking the protein-manufacturing strategy found in nature, the factories contain ribosomes, amino acids and enzymes—the building blocks needed to synthesize the desired protein-based drug.

At 150 nanometers or smaller—1/1,000 the diameter of a strand of hair, these factories are injected into the patient and circulate in the blood until finding the tumor. Since many tumors have leaky blood vessels with pores that are several hundred nanometers wide, these factories are small enough to penetrate.

Other researchers have developed systems that release drugs inside the tumor, but Prof. Schroeder and his team are the first to manufacture drugs inside the tumor. “This is the first proof of concept that you can actually synthesize new compounds from inert starting materials inside the body,” says Schroeder.

His system promises to allow physicians to tailor drugs specifically for each patient, and will allow the patient to receive a more concentrated dose of the drug only where it is necessary, thus escaping the harsh side effects.

After earning his PhD at Ben Gurion University and postdoctoral studies at MIT with Prof. Robert Langer, Schroeder returned to Israel. Courted by several universities, he received a Horev Fellowship through the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation Leaders In Science and Technology Faculty Recruitment Program, and accepted a position at the Technion in 2012.

Prof. Schroeder is widely published and has received more than 20 awards including TevaTech Graduate Student Award in Chemistry and Biology, Intel PhD-Student Award for Research in Nanotechnology, the Wolf Foundation PhD-Student Award, the prestigious Polymer Advanced Technologies 2013 Young Scientific Talents Award, and the Allon Fellowship.

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is a global community. In this video students and President Prof. Peretz Lavie wish you Happy New Year for 2015 in 14 different languages.
Technion is the place where dreams come true.

In order of appearance:

  • Eric Yudin in English – Computer Science
  • Johanna Wallin in Swedish – Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Tali Tazazo in Amharic – Electrical Engineering
  • Eshhar Tal in Hebrew – Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Efrat Vitchevsky in Russian – Medicine
  • Micael Zollmann in Afrikaans – Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Ahmad Omari in Arabic – Energy Program
  • Michal Brodeschi in Portuguese – Architecture & Town Planning
  • Rashmi Kothari in Hindi – Chemistry
  • Wen-Hui Hung in Chinese – Industrial Engineering & Management
  • Fred Xie in Chinese – Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Hanqi He in Chinese – Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Davide Schaumann in Italian – Architecture & Town Planning
  • Irene Alvarez-Sostres in Spanish – Architecture & Town Planning
  • Deborah Cohen in French – Electrical Engineering
  • Dr. “Bob” Shillman in English – A Man and a Cat Called Yitz
  • Prof. Peretz Lavie in English – Technion President
  • Valentin Garbe in German – Electrical Engineering