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New Smartwatch Software May Now Verify Your Signatures
1/30/2017

Software measuring wrist movements could replace tablets and digital pens, say TAU and Ben-Gurion University researchers

The handwritten signature is still the most widely accepted biometric used to verify a person's identity. Banks, corporations, and government bodies rely on the human eye and digital devices such as tablets or smart pens to capture, analyse, and verify people's autographs.

New software developed by researchers at Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev now enables smartwatches, currently worn by one in six people around the world, to verify handwritten signatures.

The accompanying study was recently published on arXiv. It is available at https://arxiv.org/abs/1612.06305.

"A popular device worn by so many people should feature additional, critically useful functions," said study co-author Dr. Erez Shmueli of TAU's Department of Industrial Engineering, who added that 373 million of these devices will be in use by 2020. "Considering how dependent we are on signatures, we decided to develop software that would verify the smartwatch device wearer's handwritten signature."

The next step in signature verification

Signing on a digital pad or using a special electronic pen has replaced pen and paper in many instances, but these alternatives often require cumbersome dedicated devices. The new software developed by Dr. Shmueli and his student Alona Levy, in collaboration with Prof. Yuval Elovici of BGU's Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering and his student Ben Nassi, would turn any generic smartwatch into an expert signature verifier.

The novel technology utilizes motion data — a person's wrist movements measured by an accelerometer or a gyroscope — to uniquely identify them during the signing process and subsequently classify the signature as either genuine or forged.

"Using a wrist-worn device such as a smartwatch or a fitness tracker bears obvious advantages over other wearable devices, since it measures the gestures of the entire wrist rather than a single finger or an arm," said Dr. Shmueli. "While several other recent studies have examined the option of using motion data to identify users, this is its first application to verify handwritten signatures — still a requirement at the bank, the post office, your human resources department, etc."

Fighting forgery

The team tested its system on 66 TAU undergraduates. The students, all wearing smartwatches, were asked to provide 15 signature samples on a tablet, using the tablet's digital pen. The students were then shown video recordings of people signing during the first phase, and were asked to forge five of those signatures. The students were given ample time to practice and were compensated for "exceptional forgeries."

The smartwatch, equipped with the new verification software, was able to detect forgery with an extremely high level of accuracy.

"Next we plan to compare our approach with existing state-of-the-art methods for offline and online signature verification," said Dr. Shmueli. "We would also like to investigate the option of combining data extracted from the wearable device with data collected from a tablet device to achieve even higher verification accuracy."

The researchers have applied for a patent in an initial step toward commercializing their system.

Global Internet of Things (IoT) Consortium Establishes Investment Vehicle at TAU
12/1/2016

Ramot, TAU's Business Engagement Center Company, to launch i3 Equity Partners on campus

The global consortium Israel IoT Innovations-i3 Equity Partners (i3) has established an investment vehicle at Tel Aviv University with the initial sum of $20 million to develop next-generation IoT (Internet of Things) and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) technologies.

The consortium is comprised of five global IoT industry leaders: GE Ventures, HNA EcoTech, Microsoft Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Tata. It will partner with Pitango Venture Capital and TAU's Business Engagement Center Company, Ramot, to launch the vehicle. Headquartered on TAU's campus, i3 will be co-managed by Noga Kap and Eran Wagner, entrepreneurs and investors well versed in early-stage investments, and chaired by Ramot CEO Shlomo Nimrodi.

"This one-of-a-kind collaboration of some of the world's largest corporations, Israel's leading academic institution and its largest venture capital fund, is a testament to the palpable confidence in the ability of Israeli entrepreneurs to come up with the next big thing that will transform our world," said Nimrodi. "The fact that we were able to bring all these leading partners to one table, providing access to their technologies, markets and clients, and to attract top venture capital talent to lead this initiative, is indicative of the highly unique differentiators we will be offering to top entrepreneurs."

Selecting the best of the best

i3 is expected to select high-potential seed and pre-seed startups with the optimal conditions for success, including financial investment of up to $1 million each and high-value in-kind contributions including technology, tools, mentoring, business development and other services. It will also provide these ventures with access to supportive multinational corporations at all stages of development: technological validation, design, proof of concept, later-stage investment and the sale of mature technologies and distribution in high-potential markets.

"The Internet of Things is the heart of a brave new world," said Wagner. "IoT brings together the various IT technologies developed over the past decades — big data and analytics, machine learning, cyber security, sensors and communications networks — to create the connected solutions that are already starting to change every aspect of our lives: from health through transportation and home appliances to aviation, agriculture, industrial manufacturing and much more. In Israel, we can find the unique combination of multidisciplinary skills and passion to innovate that is needed to create new big businesses that will impact large industries."

"This novel IoT vehicle will be the first stop for IoT-related startups hoping to access the main global players in the IoT space," said Kap. "With our unique and proprietary network, we will look for entrepreneurs who are adapting to changing markets in the IoT domain, and create products that matter. We will provide our portfolio companies with the resources they need to build great businesses by leveraging our partners' strategic experience and extensive IoT industry connections."

TAU, Israel's largest research university, consistently ranks among the world's top 10 universities with regard to graduates turned entrepreneurs (Pitchbook 2016-2017). Ramot invests in and supports the promising innovations of TAU scientists, making them attractive commercializable assets, through multiple value enhancement tools, including its $24 million Momentum Fund.

Flexible Building Blocks of the Future
7/29/2016

New mechanical "metamaterial" developed at TAU may revolutionize prosthetics and wearable technologies

Ill-fitting joint sockets, contact dermatitis and sebaceous cysts are just a few of the problems plaguing prosthetic patients. They are all a result of the pressure that their prosthetic devices place on the soft tissue of their bodies.

Now researchers at Tel Aviv University, FOM Institute AMOLF and Leiden University in the Netherlands have developed a new approach to manufacturing mechanical "metamaterials" — synthetic composite materials with structures and properties not usually found in natural materials — that can be programmed to deform in a uniquely complex manner.

The breakthrough may have future applications in soft robotics and wearable technologies — and may lead to more close-fitting, comfortable and user-friendly prosthetics. The research was published this week in the journal Nature.

Putting a smile on a cube

Dr. Yair Shokef of TAU's School of Mechanical Engineering and Prof. Martin van Hecke of Leiden University and AMOLF, the Netherlands, illustrated their approach through a three-dimensional printing of a metamaterial cube. A smiley-face pattern emerged on the side of the cube when it was compressed between custom-patterned surfaces.

To demonstrate that any pattern can be produced on a cube's surface, the 
researchers developed a cube of 10x10x10 centimeter blocks
on which a smiley appears when the cube is compressed.
Photo: Corentin Coulais.

"We started with a series of flexible building blocks, or bricks, that had deformation properties that varied with their position," said Dr. Shokef. "The blocks were able to change their shape when we applied pressure. From there, we were able to develop a new design principle to enable these bricks to be oriented and assembled into a larger metamaterial with machine-like functionalities."

The metamaterial has the unusual property that spatially-patterned compression in one direction leads to predictable spatially-patterned deformation (dents and protrusions) in other directions.

"A pattern of specific bulges appears when our seemingly normal cube is compressed," said Dr. Shokef. "Using metamaterials, we can 'program' the material's behavior by carefully designing its spatial structure."

"For example, a pattern of holes in a sheet of material produces a mechanical response that is completely different than in the same material without holes," said Prof. van Hecke. "We also wanted to investigate this phenomenon for a three-dimensional pattern of holes."

One cube atop another

The researchers calculated the number of possible stacks for different cubes of building blocks. They then developed a cube of 10x10x10 centimeter blocks on which a smiley face appears when the cube is compressed. This demonstrated that any given pattern can be produced on a cube's surface.

"For each possible stack, the deformation within the cube results in a specific pattern on the sides of the cube," said Dr. Shokef. "We can carefully combine the building blocks in a way that any desired pattern can appear on the sides of a compressed cube. We can also use the cube to analyze these patterns."

There are many applications on the horizon for this new basic research. "This type of programmable 'machine material' could be ideal for prostheses or wearable technology in which a close fit with the body is important," Dr. Shokef said. "If we can make the building blocks even more complex or produce these from other materials, the possibilities really are endless."

Explanatory video:
http://vimeo.com/173274940
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxcCtimWxn0

Nanotech "Tattoo" Can Map Emotions and Monitor Muscle Activity
7/11/2016

Novel skin electrode is comfortable and has endless commercial and medical applications, says TAU researcher

A new temporary "electronic tattoo" developed by Tel Aviv University that can measure the activity of muscle and nerve cells researchers is poised to revolutionize medicine, rehabilitation, and even business and marketing research.

The tattoo consists of a carbon electrode, an adhesive surface that attaches to the skin, and a nanotechnology-based conductive polymer coating that enhances the electrode's performance. It records a strong, steady signal for hours on end without irritating the skin.

The electrode, developed by Prof. Yael Hanein, head of TAU's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, may improve the therapeutic restoration of damaged nerves and tissue — and may even lead to new insights into our emotional life.

Prof. Hanein's research was published last month in Scientific Reports and presented at an international nanomedicine program held at TAU.

"Stick it on and forget about it"

One major application of the new electrode is the mapping of emotion by monitoring facial expressions through electric signals received from facial muscles. "The ability to identify and map people's emotions has many potential uses," said Prof. Hanein. "Advertisers, pollsters, media professionals, and others — all want to test people's reactions to various products and situations. Today, with no accurate scientific tools available, they rely mostly on inevitably subjective questionnaires.

"Researchers worldwide are trying to develop methods for mapping emotions by analyzing facial expressions, mostly via photos and smart software," Prof. Hanein continued. "But our skin electrode provides a more direct and convenient solution."

The device was first developed as an alternative to electromyography, a test that assesses the health of muscles and nerve cells. It's an uncomfortable and unpleasant medical procedure that requires patients to lie sedentary in the lab for hours on end. Often a needle is stuck into muscle tissue to record its electrical activity, or patients are swabbed with a cold, sticky gel and attached to unwieldy surface electrodes.

"Our tattoo permits patients to carry on with their daily routines, while the electrode monitors their muscle and nerve activity," said Prof. Hanein. "The idea is: stick it on and forget about it."

Applications for rehabilitation and more

According to Prof. Hanein, the new skin electrode has other important therapeutic applications. The tattoo will be used to monitor the muscle activity of patients with neurodegenerative diseases in a study at Tel Aviv Medical Center.

"But that's not all," said Prof. Hanein. "The physiological data measured in specific muscles may be used in the future to indicate the alertness of drivers on the road; patients in rehabilitation following stroke or brain injury may utilize the 'tattoo' to improve muscle control; and amputees may employ it to move artificial limbs with remaining muscles."

The electrode is the product of a European Research Council (ERC) project and received support from the BSMT Consortium of Israel's Ministry of Economy.

Israel, US Sign Cyber Defense Deal at TAU Cyber Conference
7/5/2016

Cyber defense cooperation enables two nations to compile and share sensitive cyber security information in "real time"

Representatives from Israel and the United States signed an agreement for a real-time information-sharing platform to thwart cyber security threats on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. The occasion was Cyber Week, the Sixth Annual International Cybersecurity Conference held at Tel Aviv University. The conference is organized by TAU's Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, the Israeli National Cyber Bureau, and Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, announced the news of a joint declaration on Monday in his opening remarks at the weeklong conference, which drew some 5,000 government, industry, and academic representatives from 45 countries.

"One of the lessons we learned is to go it alone is precarious, and working together makes us stronger," Mayorkas told an audience of cyber experts. "The cybersecurity threat is borderless. Information must be shared."

"We believe in sharing information between companies, sectors, and countries because the threat is so global," said Eviatar Matania, a signatory of the agreement and Head of Israel's National Cyber Bureau. "If we share information, we can prevent the threat from propagating." Matania said the agreement would allow the two countries to automatically compile, screen, and share information, all in "near real time."

Conference welcomes entrepreneurs, investors, and academics

During Cyber Week, cybersecurity professionals from around the world convene with policymakers, entrepreneurs, investors, and academics to discuss cybersecurity threats facing the international community and the latest advances in cyber technology.

"Along with its interdisciplinary scope, TAU offers a unique mix of conditions for success," said TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter at the opening ceremony. "It has a proven record of innovation and entrepreneurship, deep-rooted connections with the high-tech industry and defense agencies, and an extensive national and international network of partner organizations."

"We are moving to an era in which almost all of our lives are handled online, so cyber threats will become more complex and more integrated in our lives," said Dr. Eran Toch of the Department of Industrial Engineering at TAU's Faculty of Engineering at a symposium on academia's contribution to cyber security. "Cyber threats will go beyond the idea of hackers. It will include governments, companies, our social networks, and so forth. Cyber security will be more than just protecting computers and networks. It will ask complex multidisciplinary questions, like how to protect genetic information while still being able to use it.

"TAU has an enormous opportunity to help humanity understand cyber threats and protect against them. It is truly a unique place to investigate these questions, as it is a major center of multidisciplinary thinking and engineering," Toch added.

Among the week's events were the first-ever Cyber Storm Startup Competition, as well as individual roundtable discussions on commercial, academic, and governmental cybersecurity cooperation between Israel and Spain, Singapore, China, India, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

Smartphone Users Are Redefining Privacy in Public Spaces
4/18/2016

TAU study highlights how smartphone technology is leading to diminished privacy

Private v. public, virtual v. real have converged in a world saturated by information technology. It seems impossible to divide the public from the personal. But when and where do we choose to share information about ourselves? How do we perceive public space and virtual space? And how do these perceptions influence our practices of seeing and being seen?

A Tel Aviv University study recently published in Urban Studies argues that "dynamic visibility," in which technological surveillance is combined with personal information volunteered by individuals online, has led to diminished overall privacy. "Technology is not only used top-down but also bottom-up, with individuals using their own technological devices to share and enhance their visibility in space," said Dr. Tali Hatuka, Head of the Laboratory for Contemporary Urban Design at TAU's Department of Geography and Human Environment.

"Whenever we use 'location-aware' devices, or tap on Waze or dating apps, like Tinder, or check-in on Facebook, we are really diminishing our own privacy," Dr. Hatuka said.

"This combination of secret surveillance and voluntary sharing contributes to a sense of 'being exposed' in a public space that normalizes practices of sharing personal data by individuals," Dr. Hatuka continued. "The result is diminished overall privacy."

Dr. Hatuka co-authored the study with Dr. Eran Toch, co-director of the Interacting with Technology Lab of the Department of Industrial Engineering at TAU's Faculty of Engineering.

Using "Smart-Spaces" to measure sharing

A survey conducted in 2013 by Google and Ipsos MediaCT in dozens of countries found that the Israeli population had the world's highest smartphone saturation (57%) and some of the highest rates of mobile internet usage and mobile email usage. The new TAU study found some differences among sharing preferences in different types of spaces, but these paled in comparison to the overwhelming willingness of participants to share their locations with their social networks.

The researchers developed an Android application called Smart-Spaces to collect information for the study. The app combines smartphone-based surveys with the online tracking of locations and phone application usage. The Smart-Spaces application was installed for 20 days on the phones of TAU students, who answered context-based surveys in the course of their daily routines. Each participant was interviewed before and after the installation of Smart-Spaces.

"More than 73% of the participants shared their locations as they answered the surveys," said Dr. Hatuka. "Moreover, there was a correlation between the kind of space they were in — private home, library, street, square etc. — and their willingness to provide information, with a higher willingness to share location and other information when the subject was in public spaces."

The results were analysed according to different activities, locations and number of people present at the time.

A look to the future

"While the sample is not representative of the general population, our results can be considered predictors for future phenomena," Dr. Hatuka observed. "Students are early adopters of smartphone technology, and their practices may predict those of the more general population."

The researchers are continuing to study the link between smartphones, urban space and social behavior to develop a comprehensive picture of current practices and produce concrete suggestions of how to approach emerging challenges.

"Our next objective is to understand what we actually see among an overload of images in an age of digital information," Dr. Hatuka concluded. "We assume that we are less sensitive to our physical environment — that is obvious. But the question is: What do we actually notice?"

TAU Uses “Deep Learning” to Assist Overburdened Diagnosticians
4/4/2016

Researcher engineers a cutting-edge solution for radiologists and other medical staff

Some 2 billion X-rays are performed around the world every year. But the average radiology clinic is understaffed. Radiologists are burdened with a growing workload, allowing little time to comprehensively evaluate images — leading to misdiagnoses and more serious consequences.

Now a Tel Aviv University lab is engineering practical solutions to meet the demands of radiologists. Prof. Hayit Greenspan's Medical Image Processing Lab in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the TAU Faculty of Engineering has developed a wide variety of tools to facilitate computer-assisted diagnosis of X-rays, CTs and MRIs, freeing radiologists to attend to complex cases that require their full attention and skills.

"There is a shortage of radiologists, and their workload continues to grow. This means that some X-rays are never read or are only read following a long, life-endangering delay," said Prof. Greenspan. "Our goal is to use computer-assisted 'Deep Learning' technologies to differentiate between healthy and non-healthy patients, and to categorize all pathologies present in a single image through an efficient and robust framework that can be adapted to a real clinical setting."

"Deep learning" for accurate diagnosis

Prof. Greenspan discussed her lab's plan to implement "Deep Learning," a new area of Machine Learning research that harnesses artificial intelligence for various scientific fields, at the Israeli Symposium on Computational Radiology held at TAU last December. Her goal is to use Deep Learning to develop diagnostic tools for the automated detection and labelling of pathologies in radiographic images.

Prof. Greenspan's lab is one of only a few labs in the world dedicated to the application of Deep Learning in medicine. She and her team have already developed the technology to support automated chest X-ray pathology identification using Deep Learning, liver lesion detection, MRI lesion analysis and other tasks.

"We have developed tools to support decision-making in radiology with computer vision and machine learning algorithms. This will help radiologists make more accurate, more quantitative and more objective decisions," said Prof. Greenspan. "This is especially crucial when it comes to initial screenings. Such systems can improve accuracy and efficiency in both basic and more advanced radiology departments around the world."

Prof. Greenspan is also exploring the use of "transfer learning" in her research on the medical applications of Deep Learning. "Crowdsourcing was essential for the application of Deep Learning on general image searches such as Google search," said Prof. Greenspan. "But when it comes to medical imaging, there are privacy issues and there’s very little comprehensive data available at this point.

"In 'transfer learning,' we use networks originally trained on regular images to categorize medical images. The features and parameters that represent millions of general images provide a good signature for the analysis of medical images as well."

Prof. Greenspan's work is supported by the INTEL Collaborative Research Institute for Computational Intelligence (ICRI-CI) and the Israeli Finance Ministry, in collaboration with Sheba Medical Center. She is also head co-editor of a special issue on "Deep Learning in Medical Imaging," which will be published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging in May.

"Robot Locust" Can Traverse Rocky Terrain and Assist in Search and Rescue
12/17/2015

TAU researcher develops locust-inspired robot capable of jumping twice as high as existing robots of its kind

Since the 1980s, advanced robotic platforms have provided assistance to crisis intervention teams in the wake of man-made and natural disasters. The objective of such robots, in various sizes and shapes, has been to intervene where humans cannot and send life-saving data to rescue teams in the field.

A new miniature robot is poised to make a major contribution to the field of advanced robotics. The new locust-inspired robot, dubbed "TAUB" (for "Tel Aviv University and Ort Braude College"), is five inches long and weighs less than one ounce. It can jump 11 feet high — more than twice the height of similar-sized robots — and cover a horizontal distance of 4.5 feet in one leap. The researchers believe the TAUB will perform well in search-and-rescue missions and in reconnaissance operations in rough terrain.

The robot is the result of a collaboration between Prof. Amir Ayali of the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Life Sciences, Dr. Gabor Kosa of TAU's Faculty of Engineering and Dr. Uri Ben-Hanan of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Ort Braude College. The research for the study was primarily conducted by TAU engineering students Valentin Zeitsev and Omer Gvirsman, as well as Dr. Avi Weiss of Ort Braude College. The research was recently published in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

Inspired by nature

"Our locust-inspired miniature jumping robot is a beautiful example of bio-inspired technological innovation," said Prof. Ayali. "Miniature robots are of special interest in the robotics field, attracting a lot of attention and research. The manufacture of tiny robots is cheap and efficient; their small size allows them to traverse difficult and unknown terrain; and many can be used in any given situation."

The scientists printed out the body of the robot on a 3D printer harnessing ABS plastic (the same material Legos are made of). The robot's legs were composed of stiff carbon rods, and its torsion springs of steel wire. A small on-board battery powers the robot, which is remotely controlled through an on-board microcontroller.

"Our research is a true interdisciplinary biology-engineering collaborative effort," said Prof. Ayali. "Biological knowledge, gained by observing and studying locusts, was combined with state-of-the-art engineering and cutting-edge technologies, allowing biological principles to be implemented in a miniature robotic jumping mechanism."

The same, but different

Researchers did not attempt to produce an exact mechanical replica of a locust. They focused instead on some of the specific biomechanical features of the locust's highly successful jump mechanism.

A locust catapults itself in a three-stage process. First, the legs are bent in the preparation stage. Then the legs are locked in place at the joint. Finally, a sudden release of the flexor muscle on the upper leg unlocks the joint and causes a rapid release of energy. This creates a fast-kicking movement of the legs that propels the locust into the air.

Like the locust, which uses stored mechanical energy to enhance the action of its leg muscles, the robot's "high-jump" is due to its ability to store energy in its torsion springs.

The researchers are currently working on a gliding mechanism that will enable the robot to extend its jumping range, lower its landing impact, execute multiple steered jumps and stabilize while airborne, expanding the possible field applications of the robot.

Get Happy with an App
8/20/2015

TAU alums develop app to build skills for emotional resilience and lasting happiness

Logo: HappifyHaving a bad day? Log in and cheer up — now you can join more than a million users of the new smartphone app Happify, developed by two Tel Aviv University alumni.

Tomer Ben-Kiki (BSc Mathematics and Computer Science) and Ofer Leidner (BA Economics and Information Technology) say that happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life and how good you feel on a day-to-day basis. According to the pair, it is actually possible to train your brain to be happier.

Happify's STAGE framework helps users develop five key happiness skills. They include savoring individual moments, appreciating the things that other people do for you, and caring about others. Ben-Kiki and Leidner launched Happify in New York City in 2012 and hope that Happify becomes the online destination platform for science-based emotional well-being — the single go-to place for data that can generate actionable behavioral and emotional insights.

Backed by $12 million in equity from investors, their company has already grown to more than 30 people, and is one of the most popular Health and Fitness apps in Apple and Google stores.

For more, read the story in the July 28 Huffington Post: "Happify: The Science of Emotional Wellbeing in a Mobile App"

Introducing Wireless Spyware — in a Pita
7/29/2015

A new device developed at TAU demonstrates the vulnerability of computers to data theft

The list of paranoia-inducing threats to your computer's security grows daily: Keyloggers, trojans, infected USB sticks, ransomware — and now even the rogue falafel sandwich.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Technion Institute of Technology, led by Dr. Eran Tromer of TAU's Blavatnik School of Computer Science, have developed a new palm-sized device that can wirelessly steal data from a nearby laptop based on the radio waves leaked by its processor's power use. Their spy bug, built for less than $300, is designed to allow anyone to "listen" to the accidental radio emanations of a computer's electronics from 19 inches away and derive the user's secret decryption keys, enabling the attacker to read their encrypted communications.

The device, described in a paper the team is presenting at the Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems in September, is both cheaper and more compact than similar contraptions from the past — so small, in fact, that the researchers demonstrated it can fit inside a pita round.

"The result is that a computer that holds secrets can be readily tapped with such cheap and compact items without the user even knowing he or she is being monitored," said Dr. Tromer. "We showed it's not just possible, it's easy to do with components you can find on eBay or even in your kitchen."

For more, read the article at Wired.com: "This Radio Bug Can Steal Laptop Crypto Keys, Fits Inside a Pita"

TAU and International Air Transport Association to Collaborate on Air Travel Security Solutions
7/15/2015

New innovation center will focus on cyber security, authentication, and security checks

Tel Aviv University and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have announced a landmark deal to collaborate on technological solutions to airplane and airport safety challenges. The partners will tackle threats to big data, cyber security, authentication, security checks, and general aviation security.

IATA representatives said they planned to work with Ramot, TAU's technology-transfer company, and TAU's Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center to open a joint innovation center to identify solutions and develop technology to contend with international aviation threats.

The IATA was among the sponsors of the International Conference on Cyber Security held at the university in June.

TAU Vice President Prof. Raanan Rein, who signed the agreement on behalf of the university, called it an important step in the university's relationship with international companies and industry, demonstrating its leading role in entrepreneurship, innovation, and research.

The IATA global organization comprises 260 airlines and represents about 83 percent of all passenger and cargo transport worldwide. It deals with a wide range of areas in airports including safety, security, financial issues, regulation, environment, and a variety of processes aimed at simplifying and streamlining procedures on the ground and in the air.

For more, read the story in the Jerusalem Post:

"TAU collaborates with IATA on aviation technology and security"

Cyber Week 2015: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro Discuss the Emerging “Cyber Revolution”
7/1/2015

Leading international cyber experts, policymakers converge at annual TAU cybersecurity conference

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Israel's technological and cybersecurity prowess but stressed the urgency for constant, consistent progress in the field at Cyber Week, the 5th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference, which took place June 22-25 at Tel Aviv University.

"We are in the throes of great change," said Netanyahu. "We're moving from atoms to bits, from place to space. I don't want to say that we’re walking in the clouds, but we sort of are. And it requires that we be at the cusp, the edge, of innovation all the time."

Cyber Week, held jointly by TAU's Yuval Ne'eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, TAU's Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC), the National Cyber Bureau, and the Prime Minister's Office, brings together leading international cyber experts, policymakers, researchers, security officials, and diplomats every year for an exchange of knowledge, methods, and ideas concerning evolving cyber technologies.

Israel at the forefront of cyber innovation

Last year, Israel attracted $5-7 billion of the global cybersecurity market ($60-80 billion), roughly double the figure from the previous year. This increase places Israel firmly on the map as a leader in the digital arena.

"Israel is in a unique place. We have a large number of talented people in this field, but it's not only numbers," Netanyahu told the thousands of delegates from 45 countries gathered at TAU's Smolarz Auditorium. "We need to make the cyber culture not only a vehicle for national defense, but also for business."

The need for constant change — a "revolution" — served as a theme of the conference, which featured workshops, lectures, and discussions on methods and ideas concerning evolving cyber technologies. "TAU is at the academic and entrepreneurial center of the rapidly growing Israeli cyber market," said TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter. "At any given time, over 100 cyber researchers and business practitioners are working together, leveraging the unique set of advantages that TAU brings to the cyber security arena.

"These advantages include a proven track record of innovation and entrepreneurship; a wide interdisciplinary scope; deep-rooted connections with the high-tech industry and defense agencies; an extensive national and international network of research partner organizations; and one more factor — which is harder to quantify — and that's a campus culture of imaginative boldness, of a willingness to not only think out of the box but to throw the box out," Prof. Klafter said.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro spoke of the importance of U.S.-Israel cooperation on cybersecurity issues. "We're also working with other countries to help us combat cyber crime," said Ambassador Shapiro. "And I expect the U.S. and Israel to continue working together to support global economic prosperity."

Other guests in attendance included Maureen Ohlausen, Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission; internationally renowned security technologist Bruce Scheier; former Cyber Advisor to Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and former CSO at Microsoft, Howard Schmidt; and dozens of global and domestic leaders from the political, military, technology, economic and academic arenas.

Speakers repeatedly stressed the need for new cyber security solutions due to the ever-changing nature of cyber threats themselves. "We know that international cooperation is key," Schmidt said. "Since 1998, we’ve talked about it — but we need to execute it. We need to start trusting in our friends, in our colleagues, even though we have national interests."

In his closing remarks, PM Netanyahu made it clear that the world's No. 1 destination for cyber solutions was Israel. "I'm here to tell you — if you’re not in Israel, you should be. If you are, do more."

Hello, Gorgeous! "Pulse" Technology May Replenish Skin's Collagen
6/30/2015

TAU researcher harnesses pulsed electric fields to rejuvenate epidermal function and appearance

Americans spend over $10 billion a year on products and surgery in their quest to find a "fountain of youth," with little permanent success. Botulinum toxin — notably Botox — which smoothes lines and wrinkles to rejuvenate the aging face has been the number one nonsurgical procedure in the U.S. since 2000. But injections of this toxic bacterium are only a temporary solution and carry many risks, some neurological.

A team of Tel Aviv University and Harvard Medical School researchers has now devised a non-invasive technique that harnesses pulsed electric fields to generate new skin tissue growth. According to their research, the novel non-invasive tissue stimulation technique, utilizing microsecond-pulsed, high-voltage, non-thermal electric fields, produces scarless skin rejuvenation and may revolutionize the treatment of degenerative skin diseases.

The study, published recently in Scientific Reports, was led by Dr. Alexander Golberg of TAU's Porter School of Environmental Studies and the Center for Engineering in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Shriners Burns Hospital in Boston, in collaboration with Dr. William J. Austen, Jr. from the Department of Plastic Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Martin L. Yarmush at the Center for Engineering in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Shriners Burns Hospital in Boston, along with other prominent researchers.

An (effective) shock to the system

"Pulsed electrical field technology has many advantages, which have already proved effective — for example, in food preservation, tumor removal, and wound disinfection," said Dr. Golberg. "Our new application may jumpstart the secretion of new collagen and capillaries in problematic skin areas. Considering that, in the modern era of aging populations and climate change, degenerative skin diseases affect one in three adults over the age of 60, this has the potential to be an healthcare gamechanger."

Current therapies to rejuvenate skin use various physical and chemical methods to affect cells and the extracellular matrix, but they induce unsightly scarring. Pulsed electric fields, however, affect only the cell membrane itself, preserving the extracellular matrix architecture and releasing multiple growth factors to spark new cell and tissue growth. By inducing nanoscale defects on the cell membranes, electric fields cause the death of a small number of cells in affected areas. The released growth factors increase the metabolism of the remaining cells, generating new tissue.

"We have identified in rats the specific pulsed electric field parameters that lead to prominent proliferation of the epidermis, formation of microvasculature, and secretion of new collagen at treated areas without scarring," said Dr. Golberg. "Our results suggest that pulsed electric fields can improve skin function and potentially serve as a novel non-invasive skin therapy for multiple degenerative skin diseases."

The researchers are currently developing a low-cost device for use in clinical trials in order to test the safety and efficacy of the technology in humans.

Where No Smartphone Has Gone Before
4/1/2015

TAU researchers move Star Trek's fictional "Tricorder" into the real world


A first-generation demonstration system of the camera.

For the crew of the Starship Enterprise, Star Trek's "Tricorder" was an essential tool, a multifunctional hand-held device used to sense, compute, and record data in a threatening and unpredictable universe. It simplified a number of Starfleet tasks, scientific or combat-related, by beaming sensors at objects to obtain instant results.

The Tricorder is no longer science fiction. An invention by Tel Aviv University researchers may be able to turn smartphones into powerful hyperspectral sensors, capable of identifying the chemical components of objects from a distance. Prof. David Mendlovic of TAU's School of Electrical Engineering and his doctoral student, Ariel Raz, have combined the two necessary parts of this invention: an optical component and image processing software.

"A long list of fields stand to gain from this new technology," said Prof. Mendlovic. "We predict hyperspectral imaging will play a major role in consumer electronics, the automotive industry, biotechnology, and homeland security."

Putting a camera and a database together

Prof. Mendlovic and Raz, together with a team of researchers at the Unispectral Technologies firm, patented an optical component based on existing microelectromechanical or "MEMS" technology, suitable for mass production and compatible with standard smartphone camera designs. The combination of this optical component and newly designed software go further than current smartphone cameras by offering superior imaging performance and hyperspectral imaging capabilities.

"The optical element acts as a tunable filter and the software — an image fusion library — would support this new component and extract all the relevant information from the image," said Prof. Mendlovic. The imaging works in both video and still photography, he says.

Every material object has a hyperspectral signature, its own distinctive chemical fingerprint. Once the camera acquires an image, the data would be further analyzed to extract the hyperspectral content at any location in the image. "We are close to producing a prototype, which is scheduled for release in June," says Prof. Mendlovic. "We unveiled the demonstration system at the MWC Barcelona conference this month and received excellent feedback."

A device for everyone

Unispectral is in talks with other companies to analyze data from its cameras' images. This back-end analyzer would need a large database of hyperspectral signatures at its disposal. Applications of the sensor include remote health monitoring and industrial quality control. "Agricultural applications may also benefit because hyperspectral imaging could be used to identify properties of crops, vegetables, and other types of foods," Mr. Raz says. "Its hyperspectral platform is also suitable for wearable devices."

Ramot, TAU's tech transfer company, consolidated key intellectual properties and financed the engineering team to proceed with R&D and the business development. Unispectral's funders include the Momentum Fund, which is backed by Tata Group Ltd. and Temasek, an investment company based in Singapore. Another key investor is the flash memory firm SanDisk.

According to Prof. Mendlovic, Unispectral is currently in advanced discussions with major smartphone makers, automotive companies, and wearable device makers to move the technology forward.

Roll Up Your Screen and Stow It Away?
3/30/2015

TAU researchers develop molecular backbone of super-slim, bendable digital displays

From smartphones and tablets to computer monitors and interactive TV screens, electronic displays are everywhere. As the demand for instant, constant communication grows, so too does the urgency for more convenient portable devices — especially devices, like computer displays, that can be easily rolled up and put away, rather than requiring a flat surface for storage and transportation.

A new Tel Aviv University study, published recently in Nature Nanotechnology, suggests that a novel DNA-peptide structure can be used to produce thin, transparent, and flexible screens. The research, conducted by Prof. Ehud Gazit and doctoral student Or Berger of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology at TAU's George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, in collaboration with Dr. Yuval Ebenstein and Prof. Fernando Patolsky of the School of Chemistry at TAU's Faculty of Exact Sciences, harnesses bionanotechnology to emit a full range of colors in one pliable pixel layer — as opposed to the several rigid layers that constitute today's screens.

"Our material is light, organic, and environmentally friendly," said Prof. Gazit. "It is flexible, and a single layer emits the same range of light that requires several layers today. By using only one layer, you can minimize production costs dramatically, which will lead to lower prices for consumers as well."

From genes to screens

For the purpose of the study, a part of Berger's Ph.D. thesis, the researchers tested different combinations of peptides: short protein fragments, embedded with DNA elements which facilitate the self-assembly of a unique molecular architecture.

Peptides and DNA are two of the most basic building blocks of life. Each cell of every life form is composed of such building blocks. In the field of bionanotechnology, scientists utilize these building blocks to develop novel technologies with properties not available for inorganic materials such as plastic and metal.

"Our lab has been working on peptide nanotechnology for over a decade, but DNA nanotechnology is a distinct and fascinating field as well. When I started my doctoral studies, I wanted to try and converge the two approaches," said Berger. "In this study, we focused on PNA — peptide nucleic acid, a synthetic hybrid molecule of peptides and DNA. We designed and synthesized different PNA sequences, and tried to build nano-metric architectures with them."

Using methods such as electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography, the researchers discovered that three of the molecules they synthesized could self-assemble, in a few minutes, into ordered structures. The structures resembled the natural double-helix form of DNA, but also exhibited peptide characteristics. This resulted in a very unique molecular arrangement that reflects the duality of the new material.

"Once we discovered the DNA-like organization, we tested the ability of the structures to bind to DNA-specific fluorescent dyes," said Berger. "To our surprise, the control sample, with no added dye, emitted the same fluorescence as the variable. This proved that the organic structure is itself naturally fluorescent."

Over the rainbow

The structures were found to emit light in every color, as opposed to other fluorescent materials that shine only in one specific color. Moreover, light emission was observed also in response to electric voltage — which make it a perfect candidate for opto-electronic devices like display screens.

The study was funded by the Momentum Fund of Ramot, TAU's technology transfer company, which also patented the new technology. The researchers are currently building a prototype of the screen and are in talks with major consumer electronics companies regarding the technology.

Wiki-Kids: Teaching Educators a Thing or Two About Learning
3/24/2015

TAU doctoral student launches encyclopedia app that feeds the curiosity of 21st century kids

Over the last decade, educators veered away from rote learning as the dominant technique for children's education. New curriculum standards call for a greater emphasis on active learning, critical thinking, and communication, rather than the recall of facts to instill a greater love of learning in students and to improve test results in mathematics and science-related subjects.

Now a new encyclopedia application designed and launched by Yoav Meyrav of Tel Aviv University's Philosophy Department and co-founder Inbal Miron-Bershteyn aims to channel a child's natural curiosity toward fun to enrich learning. Wiki-Kids, available now on the Apple App Store, is a tablet-formatted encyclopedia that offers curious kids a platform they can use to independently explore the world.

The kids choose what they want to see next. "When I sat down to design the app, I was dreaming about my own kids," said Meyrav, who previously worked on the Hebrew Encyclopedia team. "The project isn't limited to one app. We are trying to spark a larger trend, a major change in the way we educate our children. Rather than encouraging their 'grade-digging,' we should be fostering their natural curiosity."

Exploring the world with an iPad

Meyrav, who with TAU alumna Sharon Arad wrote the 240 entries in the ten categories featured on the app, did so with independent exploration — as opposed to information-dumping — as the single guiding objective. The entries contain carefully crafted text, friendly narration, colorful images, and bright sounds, offering four-to-eight-year-old children a unique tool with which to independently explore the world. The ten categories featured are animals, nature, countries, landmarks, food, space, the human body, musical instruments, occupations, and transportation.

According to Miron-Bershteyn, whose idea it was to initially launch Wiki-Kids, almost anything can be explained to young children in fewer than 80 words (or 30 seconds of narration). What's more, said Meyrav, the app contextualizes any information presented. For example, a light tap on a tiger icon leads to one main descriptive entry and three accompanying engaging images — the countries in which tigers reside, the animals that tigers prey on, and tiger-related species.

Meyrav worked closely with psychologists and literacy education experts when drafting the entries, which contain neither ads nor irrelevant links. The app was also certified by the kidSAFE Seal Program and Momswithapps.

"This is not an encyclopedia that answers questions but rather leads to more questions," said Meyrav. "We want to inspire curiosity. The principles governing reference material for adults and kids are very different — just ask your own kids. They have to experience something to really understand it.

"Once I relieved myself of the need to be relevant and to the point, my imagination let loose. Every entry became a challenge — to supply an entry point to more information instead of a mere fact. Ours is a 'tapas' encyclopedia, offering users a chance to sample all sorts of interesting things. We don't want to satisfy kids' appetite for learning. We want to encourage them to keep exploring," Meyrav said.

Wiki-Kids, available now in English, will be launched in a Hebrew-language version soon.

New Optical Materials Break Digital Connectivity Barriers
3/18/2015

TAU researcher discovers novel nanoscale "metamaterial" could serve as future ultra-high-speed computing units

From computers, tablets, and smartphones to cars, homes, and public transportation, our world is more digitally connected every day. The technology required to support the exchange of massive quantities of data is critical. That's why scientists and engineers are intent on developing faster computing units capable of supporting much larger amounts of data transfer and data processing.

A new study published in Nature Photonics by Tel Aviv University researchers finds that new optical materials could serve as the nuts and bolts of future ultra-high-speed optical computing units. According to the research, led by Dr. Tal Ellenbogen and conducted by group members Nadav Segal, Shay Keren-Zur, and Netta Hendler, all of the Department of Physical Electronics at TAU's School of Electrical Engineering and TAU's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, these "nonlinear metamaterials," which possess physical capabilities not found in nature, may be the building blocks that allow major companies like IBM and Intel to move from electronic to optical computing.

At his TAU lab, Dr. Ellenbogen studies the interaction between light and matter at the nanoscale level in order to explore underlying physical mechanisms, which can be used to develop novel optical and electro-optical components. "Optical metamaterials have been studied for their intriguing and unusual properties for the last 15 years," said Dr. Ellenbogen. "Our work shows that, with the proper design, they can also be used to develop new types of active optical components essential to the manufacture of ultra-high-speed optics-based computer chips."

Light and matter

In natural materials, the interaction between light and the material is governed by the chemical composition of the material. In the new optical materials, however, through the creation of fine nanostructures, the interaction can be controlled and new optical phenomena can be observed. When the strength of the interaction is not directly proportional to the strength of the light field, nonlinear optical effects kick in. These effects can be used to make active optical devices.

These artificial optical materials are sometimes referred to as optical metamaterials and their nanoscale building blocks are sometimes referred to as "optical meta-atoms." "Future on-chip communications systems are expected to change from relying solely on electronics to relying on photonics — that is, the qualities and mechanics of light — or hybrid electronic-photonic systems," said Dr. Ellenbogen. "These photonic on-chip communications systems will consist of active nonlinear nanoscale optical elements. Our research opens the door to consider nonlinear metamaterials as the active nanoscale components in future on-chip communications.

"By merging two disciplines in optics — metamaterials and nonlinear photonic crystals — we are opening the door to constructing novel active nonlinear devices based on metamaterials and to new fundamental studies altogether," said Dr. Ellenbogen. The researchers are currently exploring how to make the nonlinear interaction more efficient by using multilayered metamaterial structures and by examining different metamaterial building blocks.

All of the research was conducted at the Laboratory for Nanoscale Electro-Optics at TAU's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the European Commission Marie Curie Career Integration Grant, and the Tel Aviv University Center for Renewable Energy. For this research Nadav Segal won the The Feder Family Award for Best Student Work in Communications.

TAU's Prof. Yossi Matias Promoted to Google Vice President
12/4/2014

"Big data" expert will continue to head Google's R&D Center in Israel in addition to new leadership role

Prof. Yossi MatiasProf. Yossi Matias of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences, the Managing Director of Google's R&D Center in Israel, has been appointed a Vice President at Google. He will keep leading global efforts within Google Search team, while continuing to lead Israel's R&D Center.

"We've made good progress from the ten blue links Search showed in response to queries. Today, we all carry powerful smartphones and expect them to help us throughout our lives — from where we're supposed to be in 15 minutes, to which school is the best fit for our kids. In response, Google has changed a lot. Typing on your phone is slow and cumbersome, so now you can talk to Google and get answers to an increasing range of questions. But we're still far from our goal of getting you just the right information at the exact moment you need it with almost no effort," said Prof. Matias. "My team and I are focusing on new products and technologies to further this end."

After joining Google eight years ago to start an R&D center in Tel Aviv, Prof. Matias merged Google's Tel Aviv and Haifa centers to form a single strategic Israel R&D Center, which has since grown rapidly to include over 400 engineers. Under Prof. Matias' leadership, Israel's R&D Center has developed core technologies in the areas of Search, Data Analytics, Gmail, YouTube, and Internet scale infrastructure, as well as pioneered an initiative to bring online worldwide heritage collections.

Creating the next generation of tech entrepreneurs

Prof. Matias was also instrumental in founding Google's Campus Tel Aviv, a tech hub aimed at supporting the next generation of Israeli tech entrepreneurs. "For the past few years, I and my team have held a class at TAU in Cloud and Web Development, in which students develop new products, study new technologies, and learn how to work well in teams," said Prof. Matias. "This is de facto a class in entrepreneurship, combining technology development and innovation with real-world operations. The success of the class was one of the inspirations for establishing Campus Tel Aviv and its Launchpad."

On the faculty of TAU's Blavatnik School of Computer Science, Prof. Matias has published over 100 scientific and technological research papers, and has over 30 patents registered in his name. He is a recipient of the Gödel Prize for his pioneering work on Big Data (with Prof. Noga Alon, also from TAU, and Prof. Mario Szegedy) and was elected a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

"The roles of academic research and education are more important today than ever, and I was fortunate to have worked over the years at TAU, where there is exceptional work on cutting-edge research and an amazing faculty," said Prof. Matias. "I remain close to my academic roots, teaching various courses over the years. I'm a strong believer in the benefits of cross-pollination between excellent academic research and education and innovative product and technology development. While my primary role is to lead the development of some of our global products and technologies, I also help oversee our university relations program across Europe and Israel."

According to Prof. Matias, "For both academic research and technology development, it's important to take on big challenges of high impact, and focus on the long term."

Cyber Week 2014: PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Antivirus Guru Eugene Kaspersky, and Iron Dome Mastermind Dr. Danny Gold Tackle Cyber "Game-Changers"
9/24/2014

Industry leaders from around the world explore cybersecurity at annual TAU forum

Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Klafter, and Isaac Ben Israel
Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Klafter, and Isaac Ben Israel

"I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that cyber defense solutions will serve as the essential basis for human development and economic growth in this century — I think it's happening before our very eyes," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told leading policymakers and cybersecurity experts at the 4th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference, held at Tel Aviv University on September 14-15, 2014.

The signature event of Cyber Week 2014, one of the most important annual cyber events in the world, the TAU conference series presented the full spectrum of knowledge, methods, and ideas about emerging cyber technologies and challenges. The event was held jointly by TAU's Yuval Ne'eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, the National Cyber Bureau, the Prime Minister's Office, and the Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC).

Boasting over 400 guests from 40 countries, the conference was chaired by Prof. Isaac Ben Israel, head of the Ne'eman Workshop, which has been providing reports to the prime minister, defense minister, IDF, chief of staff, and many more of Israel's decision makers for the past 12 years.

Security guru Kaspersky applauds TAU efforts

Eugene Kaspersky
Eugene Kaspersky

During one session, Eugene Kaspersky, head of Kaspersky Lab, one of the best known and fastest growing IT security vendors in the world, discussed the growing threats and demand for experts in the field, citing TAU as one of the singular institutions rising to the challenge.

"The dangers are much greater than they ever were, the solutions are much more complicated, and there aren't enough people in the field. Unfortunately there are plenty of jobs, and the demand is only going to increase," Kaspersky said. "Since we are speaking at an educational institution, I want to emphasize the importance of education in prevention, but especially to develop professionals who can help develop the defenses we need to survive as a society. I have been doing this for 25 years, and I lie awake at night worrying about what is, and even worse, what could be."

Wide-ranging solutions to urgent problems

Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres

Addressing the attendees, Prof. Ben Israel said, "Israel is a target of so many hostile entities, which include anyone who hates the West and anyone who really hates Israel. Unfortunately, Israel has a lot of experience dealing with such threats. This conference will address these and more."

In his opening remarks, TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter noted that the conference participants were attracted by the "wide-ranging reputation and impact of the Yuval Ne'eman Workshop led by Prof. Ben-Israel and because of the broad interdisciplinary scope of the speakers and research projects presented."

Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Minister of Science & Technology Yaakov Peri, and former President Shimon Peres all took to the stage during the conference series to discuss different cyber challenges facing policymakers. Other prominent international speakers included former NSA Director Gen. (Ret.) Keith Alexander, Canadian Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney, Assist. Sec. Gen. of Emerging Security Challenges Division at NATO Amb. Sorin Ducaru, Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, Director of the Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance Cabinet Office U.K. James Quinault, Coordinator for Cyber Issues at the U.S. State Department Christopher Painter, and many others.

Inaugurating TAU's new cyber research center

TAU's new Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center was launched during the conference. In his keynote address, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the Center, established to provide solutions to growing threats in the cyber sphere nationally and internationally, would be of great importance, to both the field of cyber security and the State of Israel.

"The research center which is being launched here today, as a joint initiative of the National Cyber Bureau and TAU, under the leadership of Professor Isaac Ben Israel and with an investment of tens of millions of shekels, embodies the understanding of the unique interdisciplinary nature of the cyber field and the significance of the connection between people and computers, between this software, that hardware — it has to keep evolving and changing," the prime minister told the packed Smolarz Auditorium.

The Blavatnik Cyber Center will draw on the University's deep pool of scholars and experts to advance research and policy papers; disseminate findings among the highest echelons in government and defense; train a new generation of cyber scientists and analysts; expand cooperation between university and industry; and educate the general public. The center's breakthroughs have already attracted partners such as the U.S. Air Force, NATO, top Israeli intelligence and defense agencies, Tata Industries, and Broadcom.

Innovation Showcase ranges from Iron Dome to Cyber Dome

TAU's Cybersecurity Innovation Showcase kicked off the conference on September 14th. It presented promising Israeli entrepreneurs, innovative cyber startup companies, venture capital funds, and private equity principals.

"Pressure makes diamonds," said Keren Elazari, a researcher fellow at the Yuval Ne'eman Workshop who hosted the forum's first session. "Israel is well-known for its tendency for innovation under unmatched pressure."

At a roundtable talk, Iron Dome developer Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Danny Gold, who holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Management from TAU and currently serves on the National Cyber Committee at the National Council for Research and Development, unveiled his latest project, the "Cyber Dome," a revolutionary system with the potential to protect Israel from cyber attacks.

Dr. Gold, who invented the mobile anti-missile "Iron Dome" system that has protected the Israeli home front in the face of intense rocket fire from Gaza, said that the "Cyber Dome" could become operational within three years. "It is neither top-down nor bottom-up — we have to integrate many resources, draw on many other means than cyber, to contend with threats," said Dr. Gold, who described his plan as "positive targeting" and "selective interception." By "creating a quality false target that imitates a real target," the system would draw the attention of the enemy, which would subsequently strike, allowing the technology to penetrate the hostile network to reach the source of attack.

Cyber Week also featured events at Ben-Gurion University on September 16 and concluded with roundtable forums at TAU on September 17.

To Sing Like Shakira, Press "One" Now
8/15/2014

Vibrato -- the pulsating change of pitch in a singer’s voice -- is an important aspect of a singer’s expression, used extensively by both classical opera singers and pop stars like Shakira. Usually, the quality of a vibrato can only be judged subjectively by voice experts.

Until now, that is. A research group from Tel Aviv University has successfully managed to train a computer to rate vibrato quality, and has created an application based on biofeedback to help singers improve their technique. Your computer can now be a singing coach.

The invention was recently showcased at an international competition in Istanbul, where it won first prize at the International Cultural and Academic Meeting of Engineering Students. Researcher Noam Amir, a senior lecturer from the Department of Communication Disorders at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, says the tool might not help record producers find the next great pop music sensation. But it could teach singers how to mimic Shakira’s signature vibrato.

Good singing is not subjective

Vibrato is a musical effect than can be used when a musician sings or plays an instrument. It adds expression to a song and is created by a steady pulsating change of pitch, characterized by the amount of variation and the speed at which the pitch is varied. TAU’s application can teach singers how to mimic the vibrato qualities most attractive to the human ear.

But mastering vibrato is no guarantee for an American Idolappearance. “Vibrato is just one aspect of a singer’s impact,” says Amir, an expert in the ways that emotions impact speech. “Singers need to arouse an emotional response, and that is a complicated task.”

Music, by the numbers

Three years ago, Amir and his colleagues decided that they would look for an objective, numerical assessment of vibrato quality. New vocal students usually don’t have good control of their vibrato, explains Amir. “Their vibrato is erratic and hard to judge subjectively, and it’s hard to find to a precise measure for this.  We wanted to find a way to emulate a human expert in a computer program.”

Amir’s team input into their computer many recordings by students singing vibrato and had their vibrato judged by human teachers. Using hundreds of vocal students and expert judges, the team was able to use mathematical measurements to correlate vibrato styles to their quality as judged by the teachers.

The computer was then able to rate the vibrato quality of new voices on its own, producing ratings similar to those given by the expert vocal teachers. In effect, a machine had “learned” how to judge the quality of an individual singer’s vibrato. The researchers then added a biofeedback loop and a monitor so that singers could see and augment their vibrato in real time.

An escape from call centers

Other applications for this type of research, Amir says, could be in automated call centers, where callers communicate with computers. He hopes to be able to teach computers how to recognize a range of different emotions, such as anger and nervousness, so that a live receptionist can jump in when a caller becomes upset with the machine.

Amir’s research focuses on how emotions are expressed in speech. He collaborates regularly with speech pathologists and in this particular study worked with Dr. Ofer Amir and Orit Michaely, also from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

The original research was published in the journal Biomedical Signal Processing and Control.


Nano-sized Chip "Sniffs Out" Explosives Far Better than Trained Dogs
7/23/2014

TAU researcher's groundbreaking sensor detects miniscule concentrations of hazardous materials in the air

Security forces worldwide rely on sophisticated equipment, trained personnel, and detection dogs to safeguard airports and other public areas against terrorist attacks. A revolutionary new electronic chip with nano-sized chemical sensors is about to make their job much easier.

The groundbreaking nanotechnology-inspired sensor, devised by Prof. Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University's School of Chemistry and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and developed by the Herzliya company Tracense, picks up the scent of explosives molecules better than a detection dog's nose. Research on the sensor was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Existing explosives sensors are expensive, bulky and require expert interpretation of the findings. In contrast, the new sensor is mobile, inexpensive, and identifies in real time — and with great accuracy — explosives in the air at concentrations as low as a few molecules per 1,000 trillion.

A nano-nose to compete with a dog's

"Using a single tiny chip that consists of hundreds of supersensitive sensors, we can detect ultra low traces of extremely volatile explosives in air samples, and clearly fingerprint and differentiate them from other non-hazardous materials," said Prof. Patolsky, a top researcher in the field of nanotechnology. "In real time, it detects small molecular species in air down to concentrations of parts-per-quadrillion, which is four to five orders of magnitude more sensitive than any existing technological method, and two to three orders of magnitude more sensitive than a dog's nose.

"This chip can also detect improvised explosives, such as TATP (triacetone triperoxide), used in suicide bombing attacks in Israel and abroad," Prof. Patolsky added.

The clusters of nano-sized transistors used in the prototype are extremely sensitive to chemicals, which cause changes in the electrical conductance of the sensors upon surface contact. When just a single molecule of an explosive comes into contact with the sensors, it binds with them, triggering a rapid and accurate mathematical analysis of the material.

"Animals are influenced by mood, weather, state of health and working hours, the oversaturation of olfactory system, and much more," said Prof. Patolsky. "They also cannot tell us what they smell. Automatic sensing systems are superior candidates to dogs, working at least as well or better than nature. This is not an easy task, but was achieved through the development of novel technologies such as our sensor."

A technology for a safer world

The trace detector, still in prototype, identifies several different types of explosives several meters from the source in real time. It has been tested on the explosives TNT, RDX, and HMX, used in commercial blasting and military applications, as well as peroxide-based explosives like TATP and HMTD. The latter are commonly used in homemade bombs and are very difficult to detect using existing technology.

"Our breakthrough has the potential to change the way hazardous materials are detected, and of course should provide populations with more security," said Prof. Patolsky. "The faster, more sensitive detection of tiny amounts of explosives in the air will provide for a better and safer world."

Tracense has invested over $10M in research and development of the device since 2007, and expects to go to market next year. Prof. Patolsky and his team of researchers are currently performing multiple and extensive field tests of prototype devices of the sensor.

TAU to Host Leading International Cyber Conference
7/15/2014

PM Netanyahu, Eugene Kaspersky to speak at annual forum on cybersecurity and techologies held at TAU

Cyber Week 2014, one of the most important annual cyber events, is slated to take place in Israel on September 14-17. The signature event of the conference series, the 4th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference, will be held at Tel Aviv University on September 14th–15th.

The four-day conference, held jointly this year by TAU's Yuval Ne'eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, the National Cyber Bureau, the Prime Minister's Office, and the Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC), will bring together leading international cyber experts, policymakers, researchers, security officials, and diplomats for an exchange of knowledge, methods, and ideas concerning evolving cyber technologies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak at the event. World-renowned experts, including antivirus software authority Eugene Kaspersky and Christopher Painter, Coordinator for Cyber Issues at the Office of the U.S. Secretary of State, will share their insights with distinguished guests from around the world.

The conference will be chaired by Prof. Isaac Ben Israel, Head of the Yuval Ne'eman Workshop: "In order to succeed in building a secure cyber space, a paradigm shift is needed. This can be achieved through an effective cooperation between leaders in the academia, the industry, the government, and leading entrepreneurs who are creating next generation solutions."

World-class cybersecurity experts and policymakers, including MK Yaakov Perry, Minister of Science, Technology and Space, Gen. Keith Alexander, Former Head of the NSA, Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, Assistant Secretary General of the Emerging Security Challenges Division, NATO, Bruce Schneier, Chief Technology Officer of Co3 Systems, and Howard A. Schmidt, Former Cyber Advisor to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have also confirmed their attendance.

The opening kickoff for the 4th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference is the Cybersecurity Innovation Showcase at TAU on September 14th, showcasing promising Israeli entrepreneurs, innovative cyber startup companies, venture capital funds and private equity principals. Cyber Week will include full-day tracks and sessions on the most challenging issues in cybersecurity on September 15th, followed by a lecture series at Ben-Gurion University on September 16th, and concluding with roundtable forums at TAU on September 17th.

Projecting a Three-Dimensional Future
7/9/2014

TAU researchers develop holography technology that could change the way we view the world

Since the 1960s, theatergoers have shelled out for crude 3-D glasses, polarized glasses, and shutter glasses to enhance their viewing experience. These basic devices, used to trick the brain into perceiving an artificial three-dimensional reality, may soon be rendered obsolete with the introduction of new holography technology developed by Tel Aviv University researchers.

Tel Aviv University doctoral students Yuval Yifat, Michal Eitan, and Zeev Iluz have developed highly efficient holography based on nanoantennas that could be used for security as well as medical and recreational purposes. Prof. Yael Hanein, of TAU's School of Electrical Engineering and head of TAU's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and Prof. Jacob Scheuer and Prof. Amir Boag of the School of Electrical Engineering, led the development team. Their research, published in the American Chemical Society's publication Nano Letters, uses the parameters of light itself to create dynamic and complex holographic images.

In order to effect a three-dimensional projection using existing technology, two-dimensional images must be "replotted" — rotated and expanded to achieve three-dimension-like vision. But the team's nanoantenna technology permits newly designed holograms to replicate the appearance of depth without being replotted. The applications for the technology are vast and diverse, according to the researchers, who have already been approached by commercial entities interested in the technology.

Taking out the map

"We had this interesting idea — to play with the parameters of light, the phase of light," said Yifat. "If we could dynamically change the relation between light waves, we could create something that projected dynamically — like holographic television, for example. The applications for this are endless. If you take light and shine it on a specially engineered nanostructure, you can project it in any direction you want and in any form that you want. This leads to interesting results."

The researchers worked in the lab for over a year to develop and patent a small metallic nanoantenna chip that, together with an adapted holography algorithm, could determine the "phase map" of a light beam. "Phase corresponds with the distance light waves have to travel from the object you are looking at to your eye," said Prof. Hanein. "In real objects, our brains know how to interpret phase information so you get a feeling of depth, but when you look at a photograph, you often lose this information so the photographs look flat. Holograms save the phase information, which is the basis of 3-D imagery. This is truly one of the holy grails of visual technology."

According to the researchers, their methodology is the first of its kind to successfully produce high-resolution holographic imagery that can be projected efficiently in any direction.

"We can use this technology to reflect any desired object," said Prof. Scheuer. "Before, scientists were able to produce only basic shapes — circles and stripes, for example. We used, as our model, the logo of Tel Aviv University, which has a very specific design, and were able to achieve the best results seen yet."

The key to complex imagery

"This can be used for scientific research, security, medical, engineering, and recreational purposes," said Prof. Scheuer. "Imagine a surgeon, who is forced to replot several CAT-SCAN images to generate an accurate picture. By generating just one holographic image, she could examine symptoms from every angle. Similarly, an architect could draw up a holographic blueprint that he could actually walk through and inspect. The applications are truly endless."

The new technology could also be used to improve laser-based radars used for military purposes as well as advance anti-counterfeiting techniques that safeguard against theft.

"We optimized holograms to the highest resolution and created a new methodology able to produce any arbitrary image," said Prof. Scheuer. "Everything was done here, at the facilities of Tel Aviv University Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology; including the fabrication, characterization and experiments."

The researchers are currently developing technology that will allow holographic images to change shape and move.

Sharper Selfies!
5/7/2014

TAU researchers to equip smartphones with high-quality zoom capability by 2015

Despite an addiction to taking pictures everywhere they go, cellphone junkies have not been able to ditch their stand-alone cameras quite yet. Smartphones still don't possess the sharp zoom capabilities of digital still cameras, so the resulting pictures can be messy and out-of-focus.

That won't be the case for long, however. Prof. David Mendlovic of Tel Aviv University's School of Electrical Engineering and his former doctoral student Dr. Gal Shabtay, who together established the startup Corephotonics, have now successfully bridged the gap between the cellphone camera and the digital still camera, developing a smartphone camera with high-quality zoom capabilities. The solution is based on a cutting-edge lightweight cellular camera that uses a two-lens approach to produce sharper images.

Smartphone pictures lack the focus of standard snaps because a cellular camera features a digital zoom that manipulates images electronically, as opposed to a lens that manipulates them optically. A conventional zoom requires a relatively thick lens, which would weigh down the ever-shrinking smartphone.

Two cameras in one

Prof. Mendlovic and Dr. Shabtay have devised an ingenious, lightweight two-lens camera with two fields of vision — broad and close, and narrow and distant. The two lenses combine images from the two fields of vision, fusing them into one sharply defined picture.

"Our technology provides up to three times the zoom factor, has improved low-light performance, and can fit into compact dimensions," said Prof. Mendlovic. "We used three novel approaches: a unique lens design that enables the high zoom factor in a compact size, an algorithm for achieving a continued zoom factor, and an technique that enables compact and efficient micro-mechanics in the camera."

Corephotonics has designed the hardware and software for the smartphone camera and has already sold the blueprint to at least one device manufacturer.

Just around the corner

"The first handset with our technology will be available on the market in the first quarter of 2015," said Prof. Mendlovic. "If successful, we'll define a new standard for the next-generation compact camera, providing necessary validation of the new approach and resulting in an entirely new user experience."

The new technology requires that smartphones have good, but not exceptional, processing capabilities. Corephotonics has already demonstrated that its two-lens technology works with a processor that is currently used in most high-end smartphones on the market.

Smartphone owners should find it easy to operate as well. "We worked with users from day one," said Prof. Mendlovic. "It's important to develop what the user actually needs. We also took a holistic approach, investigating the entire camera system instead of specific camera components. This point is important since the camera is a complex system and you have to design it as such."

Corephotonics has raised $10 million from BetaAngels, Magma and Horizon Ventures.

Together with doctoral candidate Ariel Raz, Prof. Mendlovic is currently at work on the "next generation camera" at TAU's Optical Signal Processing Laboratory. Funded by the new Momentum Fund, established by Ramot, the project, "SIS: Smart Image Sensor," is aimed at re-establishing the basic concept of color image acquisition by using sensors and computation platforms.

According to Prof. Mendlovic, the new next generation camera offers four times the resolution, better low light performance and a unique user experience. "Momentum Fund provides an excellent path for commercializing promising technologies and definitely helps bridge the gap between academia and the commercial world," says Prof. Mendlovic.

Revive Your Smartphone in 30 Seconds
4/10/2014

TAU researchers develop prototype smartphone battery that can be charged in half a minute

Everyone knows the feeling. The dreaded "low battery" message sends you on a frantic search for a charge, but you finally lose the last drop of energy, and you're stranded, out of touch.

New technology out of Tel Aviv University may just save smartphone users in the near future. The Tel Aviv-based start-up StoreDot Ltd., managed by Dr. Doron Myersdorf and directed by chief scientists Prof. Gil Rosenman and Prof. Simon Litsyn of TAU's School of Electrical Engineering, is on a path to making the smartphone charging process fast and painless. At a Microsoft conference in Tel Aviv this month, StoreDot presented a new prototype battery compatible with the Samsung Galaxy 4 that can be charged to full capacity in just 30 seconds. StoreDot is currently in the process of developing the device for use in other smartphone brands.

See a demonstration video of the technology on YouTube

The technology is based on "nanodots" derived from bio-organic material. Because of to their size and unique physical and electrochemical properties, nanodots increase both electrode capacity and electrolyte performance, resulting in development of a new type of battery that can be fully charged in minutes rather than hours. These biological semiconductors are made from naturally occurring bioorganic materials called peptides — short chains of amino acids that constitute the building blocks of proteins.

Early research on the peptide technologies and their applications was conducted at both Tel Aviv University and Tower Jazz Semiconductors.

The building blocks of longer battery life

"These nanodots, only two nanometers in size, are elementary building blocks that assemble themselves from chemically synthesized biomolecules," said Prof. Rosenman. "They are tiny nanocrystals, which possess unique physical properties. We 'broke' the bio-nanotubes into building blocks, just as large pieces of metal are broken into individual atoms."

StoreDot's bio-organic new generation of batteries provides more efficient power consumption and is more eco-friendly than technologies currently in use. Manufacturing these bionanodots is also relatively inexpensive — they originate naturally, and utilize a basic biological mechanism of self-assembly. They can be made from a vast range of readily available bio-organic raw materials.

The prototype charger is currently the size of a laptop charger, but the company says it is in the process of reducing its size. The estimated price will be twice that of an average phone charger, researchers estimate, and commercial production is slated for late 2016.

More than energy

"The StoreDot technologies could change what mobile computing and communication devices look like and how they're used," said Prof. Litsyn. "A fast-charging battery would be a must-have feature of any mobile device. And we believe that applications of our technologies could revolutionize many fields.

"As chief scientist at Sandisk future memory technologies, I learned a lot about the process of delivering new products to the market," Prof. Litsyn continued. "While thinking about how to answer acute challenges in the field of computer memory, I got acquainted with research on peptide nanomaterials. Together with Gil Rosenman, I started playing with their real-life applications. We discovered that their unique characteristics could enable design of more sensitive sensors, batteries with greater capacity, and displays with better color reproduction."

In addition to their practical work on improving smartphones, Prof. Rosenman is currently researching laser effects on bionanostructures, and Prof. Litsyn is developing technologies to speed up communication over satellites channels.

Conquering Computer Armies
3/17/2014

TAU researchers develop algorithm to rapidly track down malicious cyber content

Cyber attacks are the primary domestic security threat facing the United States, FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Homeland Security Committee last year. In our brave new world, traditional warfare is now inextricably linked to economic and cyber warfare. In just one example, cyber strikes have the potential to derail a nation's power grid, causing widespread damage, chaos, and loss of life. That's why surveillance programs must keep one step ahead of the perpetrators to secure civilian networks, cyberspace, and infrastructures essential to daily life.

Prof. Yehuda Afek and Shir Landau-Feibish of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences have joined forces with Prof. Anat Bremler-Barr of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya to develop new technology that combats high-volume attacks by armies of "computer zombies." The researchers have devised an algorithm that identifies malicious content related to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks — attacks that direct high volume traffic to a single targeted site to shut down websites, banks, companies, and essential government and civil infrastructure functions.

The researchers' "double heavy hitters algorithm," presented last October at the annual Symposium on Architectures for Networking and Communications Systems conference in California and published in IEEE Xplore, is capable of finding even the smallest set of cyber clues or footprints (known as "signatures") required to detect attacks that may currently slip under the radar. Their work is supported by the Israeli Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's Kabarnit-Cyber Consortium Magnet Program.

Zombies on the march

"Security is like electronic warfare. They get smarter and we have to get smarter with them," says Landau-Feibish. "The only way to identify the signature of the new attackers is to devise new technology that will automatically review huge amounts of data in real time and find common patterns that the human eye would easily miss.

"We are focused on 'zero-day' attacks, attacks about which we have no prior knowledge, perpetrated by huge armies of computer zombies called 'botnets' — computers that have been unknowingly programmed to participate in a larger strike without their owners' knowledge," Landau-Feibish said. "In the past, source verification methods combined with traffic behavioral analysis were enough to identify and distinguish the source of the malicious attack. But now, in the face of huge zombie-armies, these methods are insufficient. A new method is required."

Security companies today painstakingly conduct real-time analysis of web traffic to identify cyber attackers. But since terrorists now hide behind the guise of seemingly legitimate traffic and countless "innocent" computer sources, analysts are forced to change their tactics to become more efficient.

Malicious traffic

In their study, the researchers compared content extracted from normal traffic with content from attack traffic to identify the telltale footprints of attackers. The well-known "heavy hitters" streaming algorithm, which functions only with numerical values, served as a base for the new algorithm, which is able to detect frequent and varying sequences of characters in the traffic.

"A footprint can be so very small — even a single character that is out of place in a certain context," said Landau-Feibish. "Security companies need time to sift through traffic to identify these footprints. In the meantime, the customers' sites are gridlocked. We were able to cut down that time as well as decrease false positives, peaceful traffic misidentified as malicious, and false negatives — malicious traffic originally identified as safe."

The team is currently working on a "triple heavy hitter" algorithm, which will identify combinations of footprints to further improve the identification of DDoS strikes. The researchers are also exploring ways of expanding their methods to identify other types of attacks.

Radiation-Enabled Computer Chips Could Lead to Low-Cost Security Imaging Systems
9/12/2012

Small, affordable high-frequency chips will have broad applications in detection technology, TAU researcher says

With homeland security on high alert, screening systems to search for concealed weapons are crucial pieces of equipment. But these systems are often prohibitively expensive, putting them out of reach for public spaces such as train and bus stations, stadiums, or malls, where they could be beneficial.

Now Dr. Eran Socher of Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Engineering is reconfiguring existing complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) chips designed for computers and turning them into high frequency circuits. The ultimate goal is to produce chips with radiation capabilities, able to see through packaging and clothing to produce an image of what may be hidden underneath.

Currently being developed through a collaboration between teams at TAU and Frankfurt University, the chip could be the basis of sophisticated but affordable and portable detection technology able to meet everyday security needs. The research has been published in IEEE Microwave and Wireless Components Letters and will be presented at the International Conference on Infrared, Millimeter, and Terahertz Waves in Australia this September.

Big security benefits on a miniaturized scale

Currently, advanced security technology is massive in size and comes with a massive price tag. Such scanning systems are often developed for selected airports or used by NASA for space exploration, says Dr. Socher. "Our concept is different. For everyday use, security technology needs to be both small and cheap," he explains.

By adding new capabilities to existing CMOS technology, already mass-produced for computers and other mobile devices, the researchers are producing new integrated circuits at an affordable price. The chip, which measures a miniature 0.5 mm by 0.5 mm, newly integrates antennae, giving it the ability to receive and transmit millimeter wave or terahertz radiation. When combined with either mechanical or electronic scanning technology, the resulting radiation can produce an image.

Unlike X-ray technology which penetrates the body, the chip is designed to see only through materials such envelopes, clothing, or luggage, stopping at the human skin. Because the chip works with radiation levels that are lower than those of a cell phone, it circumvents health concerns. And the chip can also produce a more accurate depiction of concealed objects, an advantage over common metal detectors which aren't very specific or sensitive, says Dr. Socher.

Facilitating high-speed transfers

Another application for the chips, which have a range of only a few meters but operate at high frequencies, is high-speed communications. The data rate can range from 1 to ten gigabytes per second, explains Dr. Socher, so the chip could be used to transfer a file — like an uncompressed high-definition video from a mobile device to a screen or projector — wirelessly and within seconds.

Communications and software companies have already expressed an interest in this technology, he says, and the researchers have received a grant from the Broadcom Foundation in the US to support and further their research.


Controlling Superconductors with Light
8/27/2012

TAU researcher discovers that a ray of light could lead to the next generation of superconductors

A superconductor, which can move electrical energy with no wasteful resistance, is the holy grail of cost-effective, efficient, and "green" power production. Unlike traditional conductors such as copper or silver, which waste power resources and lose energy when they heat up, an ideal superconductor would continuously carry electrical current without losing any power.

But creating a true superconductor is tricky. Though the concept of high temperature superconductors is more than two decades old, finding and controlling the right materials has been a challenge. Now Prof. Yoram Dagan of Tel Aviv University's Department of Physics and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology has discovered an innovative way to manipulate superconducting materials.

Temperature is a crucial element for superconductors, explains Prof. Dagan — each material has a critical temperature when it becomes superconducting. But by manipulating different types of light, including UV and visible light, he and his fellow researchers are able to alter the critical temperatures of superconducting materials. This finding adds to a growing toolbox for controlling and improving the technology.

The research has been published in Angewandte Chemie and featured in Nature Nanotechnology.

Shining a light

Scientists have long sought ways to alter the temperature of superconducting materials, making them more practical. One of these methods includes chemical doping, removing or adding ions such as oxygen to alter the critical temperature of the material. But Prof. Dagan said that he and his fellow researchers were inspired to find a simpler way.

In the lab, they put a thin layer, one organic molecule thick, atop a superconducting film, approximately 50 nanometers thick. When researchers shined a light on these molecules, the molecules stretched and changed shape, altering the properties of the superconducting film — most importantly, altering the critical temperature at which the material acted as a superconductor.

The researchers tested three separate molecules. The first was able to increase the critical temperature of the superconducting film. With the second molecule, they found that shining an ultraviolet light heightened the material's critical temperature, while visible light lowered it. Finally, with the third molecule, they found that simply by turning a light on, critical temperature was raised — and lowered again when the light was switched off. Prof. Dagan calls this discovery a new "knob" for controlling the temperature of superconducting materials.

Small changes, big impact

The power of this finding is that instead of changing the temperature of the material itself, a more complicated process, the material can remain at the same temperature when the film is altered. This is a small change that results in very large responses from devices, says Prof. Dagan: "It's a strong response for a small amount of light."

One of the potential future applications of this finding might be a "non-dissipated memory," which would be able to save data and run continuously without generating heat and wasting energy.

This research, a collaboration between the Departments of Physics, Chemistry, and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, included Drs. Michael Gozen and Shachar Richter, Post-Doctoral Fellow Dr. Itai Carmeli, and graduate student Avraham Lewin on the team.


Carbon-Based Transistors Ramp Up Speed and Memory for Mobile Devices
7/16/2012

Though smartphones and tablets are hailed as the hardware of the future, their present-day incarnations have some flaws. Most notoriously, low RAM memory limits the number of applications that can be run at one time and quickly consumes battery power. Now, a Tel Aviv University researcher has found a creative solution to these well-known problems.

As silicon technology gets smaller, creating a large and powerful memory grows harder, say PhD candidate Elad Mentovich and his supervisor Dr. Shachar Richter of TAU's Department of Chemistry and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Working with carbon molecules called C60, Mentovich has successfully built a sophisticated memory transistor that can both transfer and store energy, eliminating the need for a capacitor.

This molecular memory transistor, which can be as small as one nanometer, stores and disseminates information at high speed — and it's ready to be produced at existing high-tech fabrication facilities. Major companies in the memory industry have already expressed interest in the technology, says Mentovich, who was awarded first prize for his work at May's European conference in the session on Novel Materials Approaches for Microelectronics of the Materials Research Society. The basis of the technology has been published in the journal Advanced Materials and Applied Physics Letters.

Closing the technology gap

Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are the computing devices of the post-personal-computer (PC) era, says Mentovich. These devices, which are small and battery operated, are quickly closing the gap with their laptop or desktop ancestors in terms of computing power and storage capacity — but they are lacking in RAM, the run-time memory reserves that computers need to operate various programs. Because current RAM technology is power-hungry and physically large, it doesn't function well in mobile devices. That's where laptops and PC's retain the edge.

As many as 15 years ago, technology experts realized that the problem with shrinking electronics would be the physical size of the hardware needed to make them run. The idea of a sophisticated transistor, which could do the job of both the transistor and the capacitor, was a technological dream — until now.

In order to tackle this technology gap, Mentovich was inspired by the work of Israel Prize winner Prof. Avraham Nitzan of TAU's Department of Chemistry, who proved that, due to its special structure, a molecule can store both an electric charge and information at the same time. To apply this finding to transistors, Mentovich used C60 molecules, made up of 60 carbon atoms, and put them in the channels of a transistor, creating a smaller-than-silicone, high-speed transistor that could also do the job of a capacitor.

Going mobile

Mentovich believes that this technology is sorely needed in today's mobile world. 2012 was the first year in which big technology companies sold more tablets and smartphones than laptops and notebooks combined, he notes. "When this new technology is integrated into future devices, you will have much more memory on your smartphones and tablets, approaching the level of a laptop. With that kind of memory, you'll be able to run applications simultaneously, and because it is low voltage, power consumption will fall and battery life will be longer."

The next step is to find a fabrication facility with the necessary materials to manufacture the transistors. According to Mentovich, the benefit of this product is that with the right equipment, which is standard in high-tech facilities, and his breakthroughs on how to put the transistors together, these molecular memories could be manufactured anywhere. "The distance to implementation is not far," he says.


Smart Phones Are Changing Real World Privacy Settings
5/10/2012

TAU research finds that smart phone users develop new concepts of privacy in public spaces

With endless applications, high-speed wireless Internet access, and free messaging services, smart phones have revolutionized the way we communicate. But at what cost? According to researchers at Tel Aviv University, the smart phone is challenging traditional conceptions of privacy, especially in the public sphere.

Dr. Tali Hatuka of TAU's Department of Geography and Dr. Eran Toch of TAU's Department of Industrial Engineering have teamed to measure the impact of the smart phone phenomenon on privacy, behavioral codes, and the use of public space. Their early results indicate that although spaces such as city squares, parks, or transportation were once seen as public meeting points, smart phone users are more and more caught up in their technology-based communications devices than their immediate surroundings.

Smart phone users are 70 percent more likely than regular cellphone users to believe that their phones afford them a great deal of privacy, says Dr. Toch, who specializes in privacy and information systems. These users are more willing to reveal private issues in public spaces. They are also less concerned about bothering individuals who share those spaces, he says.

Inside a private bubble

Dr. Hatuka says that smart phones create the illusion of "private bubbles" around their users in public spaces. She also believes that the design of public spaces may need to change in response to this technology, not unlike the ways in which some public areas have been designated as "smoking" and "non-smoking." Dr. Toch also notes that smartphones and personal computing devices are becoming more "context-aware," adjusting themselves in terms of brightness and volume to the user's location and activity.

To examine how smart phones have impacted human interactions in public and private spaces, the researchers designed an in-depth survey. Nearly 150 participants, half smart phone users and half regular phone users, were questioned about how telephone use applied to their homes, public spaces, learning spaces, and transportation spaces.

While regular phone users continued to adhere to established social protocol in terms of phone use — postponing private conversations for private spaces and considering the appropriateness of cell phone use in public spaces — smart phone users adapted different social behaviors for public spaces. They were 50 percent less likely to be bothered by others using their phones in public spaces, and 20 percent less likely than regular phone users to believe that their private phone conversations were irritating to those around them, the researchers found.

Feeling lost without a phone

According to the researchers, smart phone users were also more closely "attached" to their mobile devices. When asked how they felt when they were without their phones, the majority of smart phone owners chose negative descriptors such as "lost," "tense," or "not updated." Regular phone users were far more likely to have positive associations to being without their phones, such as feeling free or quiet.

The next phase of the study will be a more in-depth analysis of how smart phone users incorporate this technology into their daily lives. It requires users to install an application that the researchers developed called Smart Spaces. The application is designed to track where the participants go over a three-week period and how they use their phones while there. This will give researchers a better idea of how smart phone users interact in both public and private spaces during the course of a typical day.

Dr. Hatuka and Dr. Toch believe that their complete findings can reveal clues about the future of public space and how it will be designed in order to meet the needs of those it serves. "We are entering a new phase of public and private spaces," says Dr. Hatuka, suggesting that physical spaces need to be redesigned as arenas which could enhance personal interaction.


Biodegradable Transistors -- Made from Us
3/7/2012

Award-winning TAU research uses self-assembling blood, milk, and mucus proteins to build next generation technology

Silicon, a semi-conducting element, is the basis of most modern technology, including cellular phones and computers. But according to Tel Aviv University researchers, this material is quickly becoming outdated in an industry producing ever-smaller products that are less harmful to the environment.

Now, a team including Ph.D. students Elad Mentovich and Netta Hendler of TAU's Department of Chemistry and The Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, with supervisor Dr. Shachar Richter and in collaboration with Prof. Michael Gozin and his Ph.D. student Bogdan Belgorodsky, has brought together cutting-edge techniques from multiple fields of science to create protein-based transistors — semi-conductors used to power electronic devices — from organic materials found in the human body. They could become the basis of a new generation of nano-sized technologies that are both flexible and biodegradable.

Working with blood, milk, and mucus proteins which have the ability to self-assemble into a semi-conducting film, the researchers have already succeeded in taking the first step towards biodegradable display screens, and they aim to use this method to develop entire electronic devices. Their research, which has appeared in the journals Nano Letters and Advanced Materials, recently received a silver award at the Materials Research Society Graduate Student Awards in Boston, MA.

Building the best transistor from the bottom up

One of the challenges of using silicon as a semi-conductor is that a transistor must be created with a "top down" approach. Manufacturers start with a sheet of silicon and carve it into the shape that is needed, like carving a sculpture out of a rock. This method limits the capabilities of transistors when it comes to factors such as size and flexibility.

The TAU researchers turned to biology and chemistry for a different approach to building the ideal transistor. When they appled various combinations of blood, milk, and mucus proteins to any base material, the molecules self-assembled to create a semi-conducting film on a nano-scale. In the case of blood protein, for example, the film is approximately four nanometers high. The current technology in use now is 18 nanometers, says Mentovich.

Together, the three different kinds of proteins create a complete circuit with electronic and optical capabilities, each bringing something unique to the table. Blood protein has the ability to absorb oxygen, Mentovich says, which permits the "doping" of semi-conductors with specific chemicals in order to create specific technological properties. Milk proteins, known for their strength in difficult environments, form the fibers which are the building blocks of the transistors, while the mucosal proteins have the ability to keep red, green and, blue fluorescent dyes separate, together creating the white light emission that is necessary for advanced optics.

Overall, the natural abilities of each protein give the researchers "unique control" over the resulting organic transistor, allowing adjustments for conductivity, memory storage, and fluorescence among other characteristics.

A new era of technology

Technology is now shifting from a silicon era to a carbon era, notes Mentovich, and this new type of transistor could play a big role. Transistors built from these proteins will be ideal for smaller, flexible devices that are made out of plastic rather than silicon, which exists in wafer form that would shatter like glass if bent. The breakthrough could lead to a new range of flexible technologies, such as screens, cell phones and tablets, biosensors, and microprocessor chips.

Just as significant, because the researchers are using natural proteins to build their transistor, the products they create will be biodegradable. It's a far more environmentally friendly technology that addresses the growing problem of electronic waste, which is overflowing landfills worldwide.


Making Collective Wisdom Wiser
11/29/2011

Many popular sites, such as Wikipedia and Tripadvisor, rely on public participation to gather information — a process known as crowd data sourcing. While this kind of collective intelligence is often valuable, it is also fallible, and policing such sites for inaccuracies and offensive material is a costly undertaking.

But not for long. Prof. Tova Milo of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Science has developed a new database technology that can automatically evaluate information gathered from the public. By reviewing the incoming information and identifying questionable input, the program can efficiently moderate this input with minimal human interaction. The technology can be put to work in a number of ways, from fact-checking online encyclopedia content to alerting moderators about potentially offensive commentary — both saving valuable man-hours and improving the quality of information.

For her research, which was demonstrated in part at the 2011 International Conference on Data Engineering and will be presented in more detail at next year's conference, Prof. Milo was awarded a European Research Council (ERC) advanced research grant, a highly prestigious grant administered by the European Union.

Mining crowd intelligence

It's not just websites like Wikipedia that have a crowd-sourced component to their data. The bookselling site Amazon uses crowd-sourced data to provide reviews and book lists, and most news sites crowd-source comments and responses to articles. Because these sites are designed to be dynamic, Prof. Milo explains, "Every day, old information is updated and new information comes in. It's very difficult to maintain."

Typically, overworked staff members are tasked with sorting through the piles of information received to determine if any inappropriate material has made its way onto a site. But Prof. Milo's database technology can change that as well.

The framework Prof. Milo has developed has clear tools for managing information. The application can flag those parts of incoming information that seem questionable — and from there, the technology can send out automatic notices to moderators, alerting them of comments that should be taken down, facts that need to be checked, and places where more information is needed. In some cases, Prof. Milo says, the program can even determine the staff members or others who are best able to evaluate the information.

Filling in the blanks

Prof. Milo's technology has already been demonstrated as a social trivia-like game. At a conference, she asks participants to play a computer game where they are requested to answer trivia questions about their fellow conference participants. The questions are automatically selected to maximize the information obtained about each person. Answers are scored, and the program identifies the questions on which they have satisfactory information, and those on which information is still lacking. This not only shows the program's ability to pinpoint information gaps, but also to engage the crowd itself to complete the necessary information.

Ultimately, the system ensures that the crowd is being used efficiently. "It's about knowing to ask the right people the right questions," she says. By using human input more selectively, the results will be of a higher quality, and sites will save money and time on controlling content.


Innovative Superconductor Fibers Carry 40 Times More Electricity
9/7/2011

TAU researchers marry old and new to create the next generation of superconductors

Wiring systems powered by highly-efficient superconductors have long been a dream of science, but researchers have faced such practical challenges such as finding pliable and cost-effective materials. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University have found a way to make an old idea new with the next generation of superconductors.

Dr. Boaz Almog and Mishael Azoulay working in the group of Prof. Guy Deutscher at TAU's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy have developed superconducting wires using fibers made of single crystals of sapphire to be used in high powered cables. Factoring in temperature requirements, each tiny wire can carry approximately 40 times more electricity than a copper wire of the same size. They have the potential to revolutionize energy transfer, says Dr. Almog.

High power superconductor cables take up much less space and conduct energy more efficiently, making them ideal for deployment across grids of electricity throughout a city. They will also offer a more effective method for collecting energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind energy. Superconducting wires can also be used for energy storage and enable devices which enhance grid stability.

The new superconductors were first presented at the Israel Vacuum Society Conference in June 2011, and will be shown at both the European Conference on Applied Superconductivity and the Association of Science Technology Centers Conference this fall.

Beating the heat

One of the things that make our copper wires inefficient is overheating, Dr. Almog explains. Due to electrical resistance found in the metal, some of the energy that flows through the cables is cast off and wasted, causing the wires to heat up. But with superconductors, there is no resistance. A self-contained cooling system, which requires a constant flow of liquid nitrogen, keeps the wire in its superconducting state. Readily available, non-toxic, and inexpensive — a gallon of the substance costs less than a gallon of milk — liquid nitrogen provides the perfect coolant.

Even with the benefit of liquid nitrogen, researchers were still hard pressed to find a material that would make the ideal superconductor. Superconductors coated on crystal wafers are effective but too brittle, says Dr. Almog, and although superconductors on metallic tapes had some success, the product is too expensive to manufacture in mass quantities.

To create their superconductors, the researchers turned to sapphire fibers, developed by Dr. Amit Goyal at the Oakridge National Lab in Tennessee and lent to the TAU team. Coated with a ceramic mixture using a special technique, these single-crystal fibers, slightly thicker than a human hair, have made innovative superconductors.

Going macro

Dr. Almog is currently working to produce better superconductors that could transport even larger amounts of electric current.

One area where such superconductors could lend a hand is in collecting renewable energy sources. "Sources such as wind turbines or solar panels are usually located in remote places such as deserts or offshore lines, and you need an efficient way to deliver the current," explains Dr. Almog. These superconductors can traverse the long distances without losing any of the energy to heat due to electrical resistance.

Superconducting cables could also be an efficient way to bring large amounts of power to big cities "If you want to supply current for a section of a city like New York, you will need electric cables with a total cross-section of more than one meter by one meter. Superconductors have larger current capacities using a fraction of the space," says Dr. Almog. Different parts of a city could be cross-wired, he adds, so that in the event of a blackout, power can be easily rerouted.

Inspiring young scientists

Developing a superior superconductor is only part of TAU's mission. Dr. Almog is also dedicated to making this technology accessible and exciting as a way to capture the imagination of aspiring scientists. TAU has manufactured superconductor wafers which, filled with liquid nitrogen like their cable cousins, can be locked in place by strong magnets and levitate. Placed on a magnetic track, the wafer zooms through the air like George Jetson's space-age car. It might look like magic, but it's actually a phenomenon called "quantum trapping." Kits that demonstrate this "magnetic levitation" have been distributed in science museums throughout Israel, and Dr. Almog hopes to expand their distribution internationally.

And when the day’s work is done? "We also make ice cream with the liquid nitrogen," Dr. Almog grins.

For more on this research, see this TEDx Talks video:
http://www.ted.com/talks/boaz_almog_levitates_a_superconductor.html.


The Geophysicist's Guide to Striking It Rich
9/1/2011

TAU researchers develop integrated method for oil and gas survey

Prospecting — the search for valuable reserves such as gold, diamond and natural gas — isn't just a matter of luck. It's about knowing where to look. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University have modernized the hit-or-miss search with cutting-edge technology that scans the earth for signs of lucrative resources that could lurk beneath our feet.

Combining a number of surveying techniques for the first time, Prof. Lev Eppelbaum of TAU's Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences at the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences and Dr. Youri Katz of TAU's Department of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and Curator of Paleontology at the Zoological Museum of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History have carried out a more accurate and in-depth land survey of Israel and the surrounding Mediterranean area than ever before. Their findings pinpoint the most likely places to find reservoirs of natural gas and oil.

Fifteen years in the making, their technique, which recently appeared in the journal Positioning, can be applied to any region in the world to more accurately identify possible riches below — before the costs of drilling or mining are incurred.

From buyers to producers

To create detailed structural-tectonic maps of Israel and the surrounding areas, Prof. Eppelbaum and Dr. Katz carried out an integrated survey using a variety of geophysical tools, including advanced analysis of magnetic, gravity, and temperature fields; utilization of seismic, magnetotelluric, and satellite imaging; and numerous well sections and outcropping studies. All of these results were integrated with plate tectonics reconstructions.

Perhaps the most valuable results of their study, the researchers say, are a series of prospective maps which identify specific areas where geological-geophysical teams are most likely to be successful in the search for natural gas and oil. Such information is not only of critical economic importance to Israel, but will also diversify oil and gas options for consumers worldwide.

Just off the shore of Haifa, a northern city along Israel's coastline, there is believed to be a five hundred billion cubic meter area of gas reserve, Prof. Eppelbaum says. The survey indicates that a few tens of kilometers away, there may be another reserve that would significantly increase the current estimated amount of gas, he notes.

His predictions for additional oil reserves in deep water zones increase the estimated total of gas reserves by 200-300%. "Israel could have a future as a gas country — one that can produce oil and gas and sell it to the rest of the world," Prof. Eppelbaum predicts.

A well-rounded approach

Prof. Eppelbaum says that the research was inspired by Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham of the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences, who was the first to apply the theory of plate tectonics to Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean. His findings provide a deeper understanding of the geophysical conditions in the region.

Warning that many researchers specialize too narrowly in a specific field or method, Prof. Eppelbaum stresses that the interdisciplinary approach of the Tel Aviv University team had a direct impact on the success of the study. An integrated approach puts critical information firmly in the grasp of today’s scientists — and those "prospecting" for a brighter tomorrow.


Watching Viruses "Friend" a Network
8/30/2011

TAU develops a Facebook application to track the path of infection

From SARS to swine flu, virus outbreaks can be unpredictable — and devastating. But now a new application through the ubiquitous social networking site Facebook, developed in a Tel Aviv University lab, is poised to serve as a better indicator of how infections spread among populations.

Dr. Gal Almogy and Prof. Nir Ben-Tal of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at TAU's George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences have developed a Facebook application called PiggyDemic, which allows users to "infect" their friends with a simulated virus or become infected themselves. The resulting patterns will allow researchers to gather information on how a virus mutates, spreads through human interaction, and the number of people it infects. Their research was recently presented at the annual retreat of the Safra Bioinformatics Program.

Programming a social disease

Currently, scientists use mathematical algorithms to determine which virus will spread and how, but this method has some flaws. It assumes that a virus has equal distribution across populations, but that is simply not the case, the researchers say. Patterns of social interaction must also be taken into account. "HIV is concentrated in Africa; certain types of flu are widespread in North America and Asia," explains Dr. Almogy. "Adding the element of human interaction, and looking at the social networks we belong to, is critical for investigating viral interaction."

Facebook, notes Dr. Almogy, is an ideal tool for such an undertaking. The social networking site's digital interactions simulate in-person interactions. Viral infections like the flu are a social phenomena, he explains.

Once added to a user's Facebook account, PiggyDemic follows the user's newsfeed to determine the people they interact with. Users are deemed "susceptible," "immune" or "infected" with various simulated viruses, and can pass them on to their online contacts. Researchers then follow these interactions using network visualization software, and watch the links between users as the "viruses" are passed on.

According to Dr. Almogy, accurate modeling of viral dynamics is critical for developing public health policy. Issues such as the use of vaccinations, medications, quarantine and anti-viral procedures will be better informed if we are able to predict more accurately the course of infection.

Taking your vitamin C

More than a research tool, PiggyDemic is also a game (users try to infect as many of their friends as possible), a teaching tool (users make choices that help them live a healthy life), and potentially a method for high-resolution, real-time tracking of virus outbreaks.

"People who have this software can report if they are actually ill," says Dr. Almogy. "If we know who their friends are and the sequence of the infecting virus, we can figure out which virus they have and how it passes from one person to another." If the network is large enough, he explains, they might be able to post warnings of possible outbreaks to Facebook networks, letting people know when it's time for a hefty dose of vitamin C.

The application has already provided a signficant finding, the researchers report. Flu's peak period, winter, is usually attributed to environmental conditions. But the researchers' findings suggest there are other forces at work.

PiggyDemic's viruses are not explicitly programmed to have a seasonal pattern, and yet like the real-life flu, they also display recurrent peaks of infection. Though researchers are not yet certain what drives these periodic peaks in the PiggyDemic eco-system, they indicate that a simple viral strategy superimposed on the basic structure of human society has a strong tendency to display periodic bursts of viral activity regardless of environmental conditions. "The flu doesn't maintain itself at a steady rate of infection," explains Dr. Almogy. "Yearly peaks of infection may serve instead as 'seeding periods,' similar to the 'blooming' process we see in flowering plants."

To download the application to a Facebook account, go to http://apps.facebook.com/piggydemic/.


Can the Spanish Flu Devastate Us Again?
8/15/2011

The last century has seen two major pandemics caused by the H1N1 virus — the Spanish Flu in 1918 and 2009's Swine Flu scare, which had thousands travelling with surgical masks and clamoring for vaccination. But scientists did not know what distinguished the Swine Flu from ordinary influenza in pigs or seasonal outbreaks in humans, giving it the power to travel extensively and infect large populations.

Until now. Prof. Nir Ben-Tal of Tel Aviv University's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and his graduate student Daphna Meroz, in collaboration with Dr. Tomer Hertz of Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, have developed a unique computational method to address this question. Published in the journal PNAS, the research presents a valuable tool for identifying viral mutation strategies, tracking various virus strains and developing vaccinations and anti-virals which can protect the population. It may also lead to more precisely designed vaccines to combat these viral mutations.

Their method reveals that mutations in the virus' amino acids in specific positions, such as antigenic receptor sites, may explain how the new strain successfully spread throughout the population in 2009. These alterations allowed the strain to evade both existing vaccines and the immune system's defenses.

Playing a game of cat and mouse

Viruses and our immune systems are constantly at war. A virus constantly mutates to escape notice, and our immune system strives to play catch-up — to recognize the virus and mobilize the body's defense system.

To determine the spread of the 2009 human pandemic flu, Prof. Ben-Tal and his fellow researchers analyzed the hemagglutinin protein, which controls the virus' ability to fuse to a host cell in the body and transfer the genome which contains the information needed to make more virus. Eventually, he says, our immune system is able to recognize a virus' hemagglutinin, which triggers its reaction to fight against the virus.

Using a statistical learning algorithm, the researchers compared amino acid positions in the 2009 strain of H1N1 against the common flu and the strain of H1N1 found in Swine Flu, and discovered that major sequence changes that had occurred, altering antigenic sites and severely compromising the immune system's ability to recognize and react to the virus.

"Our new computation method showed that the main differences between the pandemic strain and the common seasonal H1N1 strain are in some 10 amino acid positions," Prof. Ben-Tal and Meroz report. "That's all it takes."

Experiments conducted by Sun-Woo Yoon, Dr. Mariette F. Ducatez and, Thomas P. Fabrizio from Prof. Richard J. Webby's lab at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, confirmed some of the theoretical predictions.

Predicting pandemic

Like its 1918 predecessor the Spanish Flu, the 2009 pandemic flu will likely go into "hibernation" — now that this particular strain has been recognized by the immune system, its power to infect has been compromised. But we were lucky: despite the relatively low death toll of the pandemic in 2009, similar to the number of deaths attributable to common seasonal flu, we might be facing more dangerous future outbreaks of mutated H1N1 varieties.

Because of the enormous mutation rate, says Prof. Ben-Tal, viruses can spread widely and rapidly, and vaccines are fairly inefficient. In the future, a refined version of this computational method may ultimately be used to generically compare various strains of viruses. This in-depth analysis might lead to the ability to predict how a strain will morph and determine if a pandemic could strike.

This is an important step towards revealing the amino acid determinants of the emergence of flu pandemics, but there is more work to be done, the researchers say.

A New Line of Defense Against Sexual Assault
8/9/2011

TAU researchers develop pocket-sized sensor to detect "date rape" drugs

Smart women know it's wise to beware when out at a bar or club — there could be more than just alcohol in that cocktail. Psychoactive substances classified as "date rape" drugs can be dropped into an unsuspecting victim's drink, rendering her barely conscious and susceptible to sexual assault.

Now Prof. Fernando Patolsky and Dr. Michael Ioffe of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences have developed an easy-to-use sensor that, when dipped into a cocktail, will instantly detect the presence of a date rape drug. When ready for commercial purchase in just a few years, the sensor will be lightweight and discreet, easily transportable in a pocket or purse.

The researchers say the sensor can detect GHB and ketamine, the most commonly used date rape drugs, with 100 percent accuracy. The technology was recently presented at the Nano Conference 2011 in Israel.

Drug detection in one sip

Possessing both sedative and amnesiac effects, date rape drugs are increasingly slipped into drinks at parties, clubs and bars. With rates of drug-assisted sexual assault growing around the world, it's a dangerous social problem in desperate need of a solution, says Prof. Patolsky. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, some 200,000 women were raped in the US in 2007 with the aid of a date rape drug — and because so many cases go unreported, the actual number is believed to be 80 to 100 percent higher.

Until now, the researchers explain, real time date rape drug detection has been impossible. No sensor sensitive enough to detect the drugs had been developed, and after a few hours, the drugs become undetectable in the human bloodstream, making their presence difficult to prove.

The new system works on simple optics principles, says Prof. Patolsky. Though date rape drugs are effective because they're colorless and tasteless when mixed into a cocktail, they do subtly change the optical properties of the drink. When a ray of light comes into contact with a drugged drink, a "signal change" occurs and the sensor sounds the alarm, which could be a beeping noise or a small flashing light in environments that are dark and loud.

To test the accuracy of the sensor, Prof. Patolsky and Dr. Ioffe had bartenders prepare a large number of the 15 most popular cocktails. Fifty of these drinks were randomly spiked with GHB, without the researchers' knowledge. When their test was conducted, each of the spiked drinks was correctly identified, and there were no false positives.

Only a tiny "sip" of one to ten microliters is required for the sensor to detect the presence of a date rape drug, Prof. Patolsky says.

Affordable personal protection

Researchers are now working on miniaturizing the system, making it easy and affordable for personal use. Each device, says Prof. Patolsky, might look like a pen or clip, easy to dip into a glass. A disposable cartridge inside, responsible for recognizing the presence of a drug, would be able to identify two to three spiked drinks before needing to be replaced — and new cartridges would each cost under a dollar.

Dr. Ioffe is also hoping to widen the range of drugs that the sensor can correctly identify. "Currently," he says, "the system is geared towards detecting GHB and ketamine. We hope to expand the system so it will identify additional date rape drugs as well."

Moving forward, the researchers are looking to expand their investor base for the project. All elements of the system have been patented with Ramot at Tel Aviv University Ltd., TAU's technology transfer company.


Tracking Crime in Real Time
8/8/2011

Almost everything we do leaves a digital trace, whether we send an email to a friend or make a purchase online. That includes law-abiding citizens — and criminals. And with digital information multiplying by the second, there are seemingly endless amounts of information for criminal investigators to gather and process.

Now Prof. Irad Ben-Gal, Dr. Eugene Kagan and Ph.D. student Aviv Gruber of the Department of Industrial Engineering in Tel Aviv University's Ibi and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering are using these digital traces to catch criminals and beef up homeland security against the threat of terrorism, developing high-powered context-based search algorithms to analyze digital data on-the-fly. With the ability to process new pieces of information instantly, these algorithms move at a high speed to support ongoing investigations.

This research was recently presented at the Convention of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in Israel, and details of the algorithms will soon be published in the journal Quality Technology & Quantitative Management.

Sherlock Holmes goes digital

Like digital files, people are always on the move, Prof. Ben-Gal says. It's not enough to process the information you have and assume the output will remain relevant. "If the object is moving, modelling and eventually catching it is mathematically complex," he says. Prof. Ben-Gal and his fellow researchers work with leading companies in homeland security on how to establish patterns of terrorist or criminal activity using mostly communication files. New pieces of information are automatically plugged in to existing data, and the algorithm's analysis of the criminal's movement or pattern is reformatted.

The algorithm works like a computerized sleuth, taking pieces of information such as phone calls, emails, or credit card interactions and reducing them to a set of random variables for further analysis. All of these communications are actually pieces of one long message waiting to be decoded, explains Prof. Ben-Gal. In a single telephone call, for example, there are several variables to consider — the recipient of the call, its length, the location of the caller himself. Once all this is known, the algorithm not only assesses patterns of crime to predict future movements, but also creates a probability map displaying the possible locations of the person or group of interest.

Like a topographical map, the probability map is divided into zones where the subject (a criminal, a terrorist organization or a drug dealing ring) is likely operating. Each zone is assigned a statistical level of probability that the subject is there. Although refining the programming of the original algorithm could take some hours, each new piece of information afterwards can be processed in a matter of milliseconds, and the analysis can be used instantly.

Our algorithms can help officials to use the available information wisely, Prof. Ben-Gal says. If they have one shot at obtaining a suspect, the location of highest probability is a good bet. Zones of lower probability can be ruled out and attention can be focused in increasingly specific areas. With more time to spare, it's an adaptive searching game — lower probability zones can sometimes yield more information.

A gathering cloud of big data

According to Prof. Ben-Gal, these algorithms are designed to deal with the phenomenon of "big data," the ever-growing amount of information available to crime fighters in the technological environment. But beyond tracking the bad guys, they offer solutions for our more legitimate world — from marketing to computer file sharing.

Prof. Ben-Gal points to companies such as Amazon, IBM and Apple, which have effectively put similar algorithms to use. Amazon, for example, generates purchasing suggestions based on books, music or products you have already purchased or browsed. Apple's forthcoming iCloud, a service that wirelessly stores digital content, will need algorithms to locate moving files when they are needed and deliver them to various devices.

Prof. Ben-Gal says that this research can also lead to near-future consumer enhancements such as location-based marketing, which targets consumers based on their location, notifying them on their mobile devices of deals in their local area.


Israeli High-Tech Is Improving U.S. Education
7/28/2011

For years, teachers have been complaining about large class sizes, an old-fashioned learning environment and a lack of support for students with different learning styles. Now Dovi Weiss, a Ph.D. student from Tel Aviv University's Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education and the Chief Pedagogical Officer of the Israeli company Time To Know, has developed a new digital teaching platform integrating technology, a digital curriculum, real-time class participation, and instant educator empowerment — and it's already revolutionizing classrooms in New York and Texas.

Early results from pilot programs indicate significant success at re-energizing education for both children and teachers. Children in Texas with access to this new educational platform outperformed their peers by a significant margin, demonstrating better reasoning and problem-solving skills. In a control group study, only seven percent of children who used the Time To Know platform to improve their mathematics skills were characterized as "below average," compared to 34 percent of children in a control group which received traditional education.

The vision and theory behind this program, developed in collaboration with Time To Know Founder, Shmeul Meitar, has been published in Educational Echo and Time To Know has been chosen by the President's Conference in Israel as one of the Israeli companies with the potential to create a better tomorrow.

Rooting out the bugs in traditional education

Weiss says his method represents the first time that technology is fully integrated into the classroom, not just in occasional use in computer labs. His interactive format encourages student participation and empowers the teacher through instant feedback.

Traditional teaching techniques fail on multiple levels, Weiss says. They fail to address the different learning styles among a group of students or the students' lack of engagement, and there is an absence of an ongoing assessment technique to determine student progress. The Time To Know program addresses these problems.

Each child is outfitted with a notepad or tablet, to be used approximately half of the in-class time. Teachers introduce a given subject, then open software activities to encourage the children to explore the concepts they have just learned independently or in small groups. Completed work can be sent to a networked "gallery" to be shared for discussion, while teachers retain full control over the curriculum and associated activities.

Most important, says Weiss, teachers can assess the effectiveness of their teaching immediately. At the end of the lesson, teachers receive an in-depth report on where the children succeeded or foundered, permitting them to revise an ineffective lesson plan and identify pupils who might need extra help. This permits new opportunities for "data-driven" teaching, he adds.

Raising grades, improving behavior, boosting attendance

The Time To Know classroom is spreading success throughout the world’s educational systems. Next year, the program will be in more than 20 schools in New York City through the NYC Department of Education's Innovation Zone (iZone) program, select schools in the Grand Prairie Independent School District in Texas, and about 100 Israeli schools.

A pilot project is also scheduled to launch in Singapore, even though students there already boast top grades. "In today's world it's not enough to get top results," Weiss explains. "You also need to encourage students to be more innovative and collaborative, to think and explore better. We have a responsibility to educate 21st century learners, to give them 21st century skills — and implant an ongoing joy of learning combined with real achievements."

Preliminary results indicate that this teaching method is not only improving student performance, but also helping to solve behavioral problems. Attendance among Time To Know students is up, and disciplinary problems among the same students have declined significantly.

Dovi Weiss' article, A Pedagogical Symphony for Technology in the Classroom, can be read at:
http://www.timetoknow.com/Data/Uploads/T2K%20Pedagogical%20Symphony%20final.pdf

Conducting Energy on a Nano Scale
7/15/2011

Modern electronics as we know them, from televisions to computers, depend on conducting materials that can control electronic properties. As technology shrinks down to pocket sized communications devices and microchips that can fit on the head of a pin, nano-sized conducting materials are in big demand.

Now, Prof. Eran Rabani of Tel Aviv University's School of Chemistry at the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences, in collaboration with Profs. Uri Banin and Oded Millo at the Hebrew University, has been able to demonstrate how semiconductor nanocrystals can be doped in order to change their electronic properties and be used as conductors. This opens a world of possibilities, says Prof. Rabani, in terms of applications of small electronic and electro-optical devices, such as diodes and photodiodes, electric components used in cellular phones, digital cameras, and solar panels.

Solar panels are typically made from a pn junction. When they absorb light, the junction separates the negatively charged electrons and the positively charged holes, producing an electrical current, explains Prof. Rabani. "With this new method for doping nanocrystals to make them both p and n type, we hope that solar panels can be made not only more efficient, but cheaper as well," he says. This research has been published recently in the journal Science.

Crystal-clear progress

According to Prof. Rabani, the quest to electrically dope nanocrystals has been an uphill battle. The crystals themselves have the capacity to self-purify, which means that they cleanse themselves of dopants. Also, he adds, some of the synthetic methods for doping were problematic on the nano-scale — the crystals were unable to withstand doping techniques applicable to bulk semiconductors.

The key, explains Prof. Rabani, was to find a method for doping the nanocrystals without "bleaching" their optical properties — and therefore nullifying their absorption capabilities. If you can dope nanocrystals in this way, he says, it opens the door to many practical applications based on nanocrystalline materials. "Whatever you can do with nanocrystals, you can do with doped nanocrystals — and more by controlling their electronic properties."

These challenges were circumvented with the use of room temperature diffusion controlled reactions. The crystals were bathed in a solution that included the dopants, where slow diffusion allowed for impurities to find their way into the nanocrystal.

The researchers used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), a device that images surfaces at an atomic level, in order to determine the success of their doping procedure. These measurements indicated how the Fermi energy of the nanocrystals changed upon doping, a key feature in controlling the electronic properties of electronic devices. The results, notes Prof. Rabani, indicate that the nanocrystals have been doped with both n-type dopants, indicating the presence of excess electrons in the nanocrystals, and p-type, which contribute positively charged holes to the semiconductors. This will allow for their use in electronics that require a pn junction, such as solar panels, light emitting diodes, and more.

Broadening the nanocrystal spectrum

Not only did Prof. Rabani and his fellow researchers succeed in doping nanocrystals without bleaching their optical properties, but they also were able to control the optical properties, namely, the color range that the nanocrystals produce. Once doped, the nanocrystal particles could change in color, becoming more red or blue. Prof. Rabani and his colleagues were able to develop a theory to explain these observations.

Prof. Rabani says that this technology can go a long way. Doping semiconductors, he explains, has been essential for the development of technology. "Parallel to this, we also know we want to make electrical components very small. A big portion of future electronics or optics is going to be based on doping nanoparticles."


A Cool Way to Make Glass
2/2/2011

Quantum mechanics, developed in the 1920s, has had an enormous impact in explaining how matter works. The elementary particles that make up different forms of matter — such as electrons, protons, neutrons and photons — are well understood within the model quantum physics provides. Even now, some 90 years later, new scientific principles in quantum physics are being described. The most recent gives the world a glimpse into the seemingly impossible.

Prof. Eran Rabani of Tel Aviv University's School of Chemistry and his colleagues at Columbia University have discovered a new quantum mechanical effect with glass-forming liquids. They've determined that it's possible to melt glass — not by heating it, but by cooling it to a temperature near Absolute Zero.

This new basic science research, to be published in Nature Physics, has limited practical application so far, says Prof. Rabani. But knowing why materials behave as they do paves the way for breakthroughs of the future. "The interesting story here," says Prof. Rabani, "is that by quantum effect, we can melt glass by cooling it. Normally, we melt glasses with heat."

Turning the thermometer upside-down

Classical physics allowed researchers to be certain about the qualities of physical objects. But at the atomic/molecular level, as a result of the duality principle which describes small objects as waves, it's impossible to determine exact molecular position and speed at any given moment — a fact known as the "Heisenberg Principle." Based on this principle, Prof. Rabani and his colleagues were able to demonstrate their surprising natural phenomenon with glass.

Many different materials on earth, like the silica used in windows, can become a glass — at least in theory — if they are cooled fast enough. But the new research by Prof. Rabani and his colleagues demonstrates that under very special conditions, a few degrees above Absolute Zero (−459.67° Fahrenheit), a glass might melt.

It all has to do with how molecules in materials are ordered, Prof. Rabani explains. At some point in the cooling phase, a material can become glass and then liquid if the right conditions exist.

"We hope that future laboratory experiments will prove our predictions," he says, looking forward to this new basic science paving the way for continued research.

Classical glass

The research was inspired by Nobel Prize winner Philip W. Anderson, who wrote that the understanding of classical glasses was one of the biggest unsolved problems in condensed matter physics. After the challenge was presented, research teams around the world rose to it.

Until now, structural quantum glasses had never been explored — that is, what happens when you mix the unique properties in glass and add quantum effects. Prof. Rabani was challenged to ask: if we looked at the quantum level, would we still see the hallmarks of a classical glass?

What the researchers unearthed is a new and unique hallmark, showing that quantum glasses have a unique signature. Many materials he says can form a glass if they're cooled fast enough. Even though their theory is not practical for daily use: few individuals own freezers that dip down nearly 500 degrees below zero.

Prof. Rabani is currently on sabbatical at the University of California, Berkeley, as a Miller Visiting Professor.


Taking Unpleasant Surprises Out of Cosmetic Surgery
2/1/2011

For some plastic surgery patients, expectations are unrealistically high. Basing their hopes on the before-and-after albums offered in surgeons' offices, they expect to achieve a perfect body or to look just like a favorite celeb. But those albums only show how someone else's liposuction, breast augmentation, or Beyonce bum enhancement turned out.

Now a Tel Aviv University researcher is developing software based on real clinical data to give patients a more accurate — and three-dimensional — before-and-after picture before the scalpel comes down. Tackling a very difficult mathematical problem in computer modelling called predicting "deformations" of non-rigid objects, Dr. Alex Bronstein of Tel Aviv University's Department of Electrical Engineering and his partners have built a tool that can generate an anatomically accurate after-surgery image.

With the help of experienced plastic surgeons, the tool can work like a engine to retrieve geometric objects in the same manner Google retrieves web pages. It helps patients avoid unexpected results in the plastic surgeon's office, and can also help a surgeon determine the most favorable outcome for the patient.

A virtual mirror trumps Photoshop

Current image-prediction software only generates two-dimensional images, and its processing power is limited to relatively simple image processing programs like Photoshop. "Our program is more like a virtual mirror. It gives surgeons and their patients a way to see a 3D before-and-after image as though the patient has really undergone the operation," says Dr. Bronstein, who works with his identical twin, Michael Bronstein and Prof. Ron Kimmel from the Technion, on the research. The trio have authored a number of research papers on the topic, most recently in ACM Transactions on Graphics and SIAM.

The Bronsteins' twinship spurred them to do the original research on this topic, after their academic and Ph.D. supervisor Ron Kimmel from the Technion in Israel challenged them to build a device that could tell identical twins apart. The Bronsteins met the challenge — the results of their basic research were featured on CNN and have led to their investigating a dozen or so applications.

For this application, the researchers applied data from past plastic surgery patients and considered a number of variables, such as the patients' ages and different tissue types.

The third dimension is the most important

Following rigorous interviews with internationally respected plastic surgeons, Dr. Bronstein designed the program with the help of numerous pre- and post-surgery images fed into a computer to "teach" it to more accurately generate post-surgery images. Now under commercial development, the software will not only show women and men a much more accurate outcome, but also help surgeons achieve more favorable results for their clientele, the researchers say.

A significant challenge was creating an algorithm that could generate a 3D image from a 2D picture. Today's photographic equipment can "see" and represent the human body from only one angle. Working with his colleagues, Dr. Bronstein integrated multiple 2D images into a single computer program that results in a 3D output.

Tools like theirs will become even more accessible, affordable and powerful in the coming years as consumer 3D video cameras become more widespread, Dr. Bronstein predicts. He adds that the same premise can be used by people in weight-loss programs — as a predictor of their body image after they've shed excess pounds.


Challenging the Limits of Learning
1/19/2011

Although we're convinced that baby is brilliant when she mutters her first words, cognitive scientists have been conducting a decades-long debate about whether or not human beings actually "learn" language.

Most theoretical linguists, including the noted researcher Noam Chomsky, argue that people have little more than a "language organ" — an inherent capacity for language that's activated during early childhood. On the other hand, researchers like Dr. Roni Katzir of Tel Aviv University's Department of Linguistics insist that what humans can actually learn is still an open question — and he has built a computer program to try and find an answer.

"I have built a computer program that learns basic grammar using only the bare minimum of cognitive machinery — the bare minimum that children might have — to test the hypothesis that language can indeed be learned," says Dr. Katzir, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where he took classes taught by Chomsky) and a former faculty member at Cornell University. His early results suggest that the process of language acquisition might be much more active than the majority of linguists have assumed up until now.

Dr. Katzir's work was recently presented at a Cornell University workshop, where researchers from fields in linguistics, psychology, and computer science gathered to discuss learning processes.

A math model in mind

Able to learn basic grammar, the computer program relies on no preconceived assumptions about language or how it might be learned. Still in its early stages of development, the program helps Dr. Katzir explore the limits of learning — what kinds of information can a complex cognitive system like the human mind acquire and then store at the unconscious level? Do people "learn" language, and if so, can a computer be made to learn the same way?

Using a type of machine learning known as "unsupervised learning," Dr. Katzir has programmed his computer to "learn" simple grammar on its own. The program sees raw data and conducts a random search to find the best way to characterize what it sees.

The computer looks for the simplest description of the data using a criterion known as Minimum Description Length. "The process of human learning is similar to the way computers compress files: it searches for recognizable patterns in the data. Let's say, for instance, that you want to describe a string of 1,000 letters. You can be very naïve and list all the letters in order, or you can start to notice patterns — maybe every other character is a vowel — and use that information to give a more compact description. Once you understand something better, you can describe it more efficiently," he says.

Artificial intelligence for answering machines

His early results point to the conclusion that the computer, modeling the human mind, is indeed able to "learn" — that language acquisition need not be limited to choosing from a finite series of possibilities.

While it's primarily theoretical, Dr. Katzir's research may have applications in technologies such as voice dialogue systems: a computer that, on its own, can better understand what callers are looking for. A more advanced version of Dr. Katzir's program might learn natural language grammar and be able to process data received in a realistic setting, reflecting the manner in which humans actually talk.

The results of the research might also be applied to study how we learn to "read" visual images, and may be able to teach a robot how to reconstruct a three-dimensional space from a two-dimensional image and describe what it sees. Dr. Katzir plans to pursue this line of research with engineering colleagues at Tel Aviv University and abroad.

"Many linguists today assume that there are severe limits on what is learnable," Dr. Katzir says. "I take a much more optimistic view about those limitations and the capacity of humans to learn."


Keeping Your Digital Secrets Safe
1/18/2011

Privacy in the digital age is a sensitive issue for both governments and individuals, as recent news about WikiLeaks and Facebook proved. A new research project at Tel Aviv University may better educate citizens of the virtual world about their privacy — and even help Facebook users avoid truly embarrassing moments.

It's all about fine-tuning privacy settings based on user information and behavior, says Dr. Eran Toch of Tel Aviv University's Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering. His software solution, Locaccino, is based on better security design, and provides users with a higher degree of control over their privacy settings. It also provides a glimpse into how people really share information between friends over the Internet.

Facebook's privacy settings — or the lack thereof — can cost us relationships or a future job. But knowing how to fine-tune our settings can save a lot of future heartache, says Dr. Toch, whose research was recently presented at Ubicomp, a leading conference on mobile computing.

Guarding your “centers of privacy”

Dr. Toch's research began at Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S. and continues in Tel Aviv. In collaboration with Prof. Norman Sadeh, Prof. Lorrie Cranor, and Prof. Jason Hong, all from Carnegie Mellon University, School of Computer Science, he created Locaccino, a location-sharing application that can capture end-user security and privacy preferences in mobile computing.

In most social applications, it's not easy to fine-tune privacy settings. Like FourSquare and Facebook "Places," Locaccino allows its users to track their friends' physical location, but in Locaccino, users can also see who is viewing their profiles and location updates, which may lead users to rethink and modify their privacy settings.

At Carnegie Mellon, he and his team conducted large experiments using the Locaccino application that was downloaded to users' iPhones and Android phones. The unique mobile social network allows people to fine-tune the way they want their information about them to be presented online. Thousands of college students participated in the study.

Dr. Toch examined what kinds of location updates users are more likely to share, then determined the users' "centers of privacy." It turned out that young people guard locations that might reveal information about their social life more than anything else, even the location of their homes or dormitories.

Locaccino's flexibility allows users to let their work colleagues know their physical location on weekdays, but not on weekends. "If a friend tags you on an iPhone when you're at a pub instead of at work, you have no control over work colleagues seeing that on Facebook. But if we give users more flexible privacy settings, they're actually willing to share even more information online," Dr. Toch reports.

A difference of culture

There are cultural differences in attitudes towards online privacy as well. Next, Prof. Toch will investigate online privacy among the Israeli Arab population, and he's already discovered differences between Americans and Israelis. Israelis, for instance, would never dream of blocking their parents from Facebook, but it's common in the United States — especially when the kids are teenagers, he says.

When Locaccino completes the development stage, Prof. Toch hopes that when it's widely available, it will allow users to rethink security and privacy in the digital world — and give them the tools to better control it.


The "Spaser" Heats Up Laser Technology
1/12/2011

Lasers have revolutionized the communications and medical industries. They focus light to zap tumors and send digital TV signals and telephone communications around the world.

But the physical length of an ordinary laser cannot be less than one half of the wavelength of its light, which limits its application in many industries. Now the Spaser, a new invention developed in part by Tel Aviv University, can be as small as needed to fuel nano-technologies of the future.

Prof. David Bergman of Tel Aviv University's Department of Physics and Astronomy developed and patented the theory behind the Spaser device in 2003 with Prof. Mark Stockman of Georgia State University in Atlanta. It is now being developed into a practical tool by research teams in the United States and around the world.

"Spaser" is an acronym for "surface plasmon amplification by stimulated emission of radiation" — and despite its mouthfilling definition, it's a number one buzzword in the nanotechnologies industry. The Spaser has been presented at recent meetings and symposia around the world, including a recent European Optical Society Annual Meeting.

Seeing your DNA up close

Spasers are considered a critical component for future technologies based on nanophotonics — technologies that could lead to radical innovations in medicine and science, such as a sensor and microscope 10 times more powerful than anything used today. A Spaser-based microscope might be so sensitive that it could see genetic base pairs in DNA.

It could also lead to computers and electronics that operate at speeds 100 times greater than today's devices, using light instead of electrons to communicate and compute. More efficient solar energy collectors in renewable energy are another proposed application.

"It rhymes with laser, but our Spaser is different," says Prof. Bergman, who owns the Spaser patent with his American partner. "Based on pure physics, it's like a laser, but much, much, much smaller." The Spaser uses surface plasma waves, whose wavelength can be much smaller than that of the light it produces. That's why a Spaser can be less than 100 nanometers, or one-tenth of a micron, long. This is much less than the wavelength of visible light, explains Prof. Bergman.

Fuelling the buzz

In the next year, the research team expects even more buzz to be created around their invention. In 2009, a team from Norfolk State University, Purdue University, and Cornell University managed to create a practical prototype.

The Spaser will extend the range of what’s possible in modern electronics and optical devices, well beyond today's computer chips and memories, Prof. Bergman believes. The physical limitations of current materials are overcome in the Spaser because it uses plasmons, and not photons. With the development of surface plasma waves — electromagnetic waves combined with an electron fluid wave in a metal — future nano-devices will operate photonic circuitry on the surface of a metal. But a source of those waves will be needed. That's where the Spaser comes in.

Smaller than the wavelength of light, nano-sized plasmonic devices will be fast and small. Currently the research team is working on commercializing their invention, which they suggest could represent a quantum leap in the development of nano-sized devices.


TAU Scientist Puts Google into "Fast Company"
1/4/2011

When Google opened its research and development centers in Israel in 2007, they chose Prof. Yossi Matias of Tel Aviv University's School of Computer Science to head the operation. Since tapping into the resourcefulness of Israeli high-tech engineers — many of whom started their education at Tel Aviv University — Google Israel has left its mark on web surfing around the world, a new Fast Company magazine feature reports.

Among the innovations born in Google's Tel Aviv research and development labs is the AutoComplete function, which makes keyword searches on Google even faster. Israeli computer scientists have been spearheading Google’s Dead Sea Scroll project. There is a wide range of Yad Vashem Holocaust museum archival videos now on YouTube, thanks to Google Israel.

"In each of these areas, we have projects and efforts that we are leading," says Prof. Matias, the managing director at Google's R&D center, who is on leave from Tel Aviv University. "Many of the projects started up as initiatives bought up by our engineers — that's part of the culture of Google. We foster innovation and allow engineers to come up with their own ideas which sometimes develop into highly visible projects." Before coming to TAU, Prof. Matias was a research scientist at Bell Laboratories and visiting researcher at Stanford University. He is an author of over 100 technology and scientific papers, and an inventor of over 20 patents.

Sergey Brin, co-founder and president of Google Inc., said, "We are thrilled to have Yossi head up our Tel Aviv R&D center. Engineering is at the heart of what we do at Google — we use innovative technology to help solve complex problems. By using the best engineering and scientific talent available, Google ensures that users can find the most relevant information."

To see how Tel Aviv University researchers are expanding the horizons for Google customers, read the whole interview with Prof. Matias at Fast Company:

http://www.fastcompany.com/1699742/google-israel-yossi-matias


Reading Avatar's DNA
12/21/2010

You know when you're watching a pirated film downloaded from the Internet — there's no mistaking the fuzzy footage, or the guy in the front row getting up for popcorn. Despite the poor quality, pirated video is a serious problem around the world. Criminal copyright infringement occurs on a massive scale over the Internet, costing the film industry — and the U.S. economy — billions of dollars annually.

Now Dr. Alex Bronstein of Tel Aviv University's Department of Electrical Engineering has a new way to stop video pirates. With his twin brother Michael and Israeli researcher Prof. Ron Kimmel, he has developed the ultimate solution: treating video footage like DNA.

Sequencing the video genome

"It's not only members of the animal and plant kingdom that can have DNA," says Dr. Bronstein, who was inspired by DNA sequencing tools used in bioinformatics laboratories. "If a DNA test can identify and catch criminals, we thought that a similar code might be applicable to video. If the code were copied and changed, we'd catch it."

Of course, video does not have a real genetic code like members of the animal kingdom, so Dr. Bronstein and his team created a DNA analogue, like a unique fingerprint, that can be applied to video files. The result is a unique DNA fingerprint for each individual movie anywhere on the planet.

When scenes are altered, colors changed, or film is bootlegged on a camera at the movie theatre, the film can be tracked and traced on the Internet, explains Dr. Bronstein. And, like the films, video thieves can be tracked and caught.

The technology employs an invisible sequence and series of grids applied over the film, turning the footage into a series of numbers. The tool can then scan the content of Web sites where pirated films are believed to be offered, pinpointing subsequent mutations of the original.

The technique is called "video DNA matching." It detects aberrations in pirated video in the same way that biologists detect mutations in the genetic code to determine, for example, an individual's family connections. The technique works by identifying features of the film that remain basically unchanged by typical color and resolution manipulations, and geometric transformations. It's effective even with border changes, commercials added or scenes edited out.

Finding a common onscreen ancestry

The researchers have set their sights on popular video-sharing web sites like YouTube. YouTube, they say, automates the detection of copyright infringement to some degree, but their technique doesn't work when the video has been altered.

The problem with catching bootlegged and pirated video is that it requires thousands of man-hours to watch the content being downloaded. Production companies know their only hope in recouping stolen content is by automating the process. "Video DNA" can provide a more accurate and useful form of this automation.


Choose a Movie's Plot -- While You Watch It
12/13/2010

Will Rona and Sol kiss and seal their fate as a couple forever, or will Sol answer the ringing phone and change the course of history? A new movie format developed by Tel Aviv University lets the viewer decide.

Utilizing complicated video coding procedures, the new format provides smooth interaction and transition between scenes as audience members watch — and determine the plot of — Turbulence, created by Prof. Nitzan Ben Shaul of Tel Aviv University's Department of Film and Television. Made with his unique scene-sequencing technique, Turbulence recently won a prize at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival for its technological innovation.

"The film gives people the suspense and thrill of multiple outcomes like those of the films Sliding Doors or Run Lola Run, but it also gives them the power to really choose and influence at a number of key points how the plot of the movie will proceed," says Prof. Ben Shaul. Curious viewers can backtrack, too — they can go back to a narrative crossroads to see what might have been, never seeing the same ending twice.

A happy American ending or tragic European one?

Using Prof. Ben Shaul's innovative format, the viewer watches the film on a regular or a touch-screen monitor, and an iridescent glow appears on certain "action items" at pivotal plot moments. The viewer can choose whether or not to interact. Should Sol send the text message? If the viewer thinks so, he clicks or touches the screen and activates the cell phone held by the actor.

Turbulence comes with an attractive plot, however it's played out. Three Israeli friends, Edi, Sol and Rona, meet by chance in Manhattan. Twenty years in the past, a protest over the Lebanon War led to an arrest, and the three friends went separate ways. Now, in present-day New York, they say goodbye to the past and two of the characters rekindle a love affair.

How will it end? You decide. Without any viewer interactions, it lasts 83 minutes; with interactions it varies from one hour to two. Whatever choice the viewer makes, Prof. Ben Shaul says, the end leads to closure and viewer satisfaction.

"Sliding Doors and Run Lola Run inspired me. They make you think about options in life, but they don't let you experience what responsibility feels like at crucial decision points," says Prof. Ben Shaul. "In our film you decide where the character should go, and you can decide to return to the point where the plot flipped. It's gripping."

Fit for an iPad

Funded by the Tel Aviv University Technology and Science Committee, the movie is perfect for new touch-screen technologies like iPads or personal airplane movie players. But the movie can also be seen in groups. An individual can be chosen to make the choices, or majority vote can rule.

"It develops optional thinking and can change the way people consume media and advertisements," says Prof. Ben Shaul, who received his Ph.D. from the Cinema Studies Department at New York University.

He hopes to inspire a whole new paradigm of filmmaking and is currently writing a book with the working title What If: Optional Thinking and Narrative Movies.


Monitoring Wear in Helicopters -- and Hips, Knees, and Ankles, Too
11/23/2010

Ferrography, a practice used by the American and Israeli air forces to monitor the condition of machinery, extracts tiny iron particles from lubricants such as oil and grease to analyze wear in machines. Determining whether a system requires preventative maintenance can be the key to preventing catastrophic failure.

Now Tel Aviv University scientists are exploring a modification of this technique for human analysis — called "bio-ferrography" — to diagnose diseases in their early stages, determine the efficacy of drugs, and ascertain the condition of orthopedic implants.

Prof. Noam Eliaz, head of Tel Aviv University's Materials and Nanotechnologies Program, says bio-ferrography has the potential to help develop better medications and better implants, and to diagnose the development of diseases, including cancer, at a very early stage.

The research was recently published in a three-part series in the journal Acta Biomaterialia.

Wear of cartilage and bone

Osteoarthritis is characterized by damage to the cartilage in the joints. In severe cases, the cartilage is degraded to the point where bones rub together, which leads to pain and limited movement, says Prof. Eliaz. X-rays, the common diagnostic tool for osteoarthritis, are often insufficient to determine the precise level of the disease. But bio-ferrography can be used for early detection of the disease in a more objective and quantitative way, he explains.

To test the extent of damage to the joints, the researchers use a bio-ferrograph, an apparatus that allows magnetic isolation of target cells or tissues. They capture magnetically-labelled bone and cartilage particles from the synovial fluids extracted from patients' joints, count them, then analyze their chemical composition, shapes and dimensions. The number and dimensions of the wear particles can be correlated to the level of disease, while their chemical composition and shape can indicate from which histological layer of cartilage they originated.

The approach is objective, quantitative, selective and sensitive, allowing for the capture of nanometer-sized particles. "We have been able to detect wear particles even at an early stage of disease, when orthopedists could not identify any damage to the joint by X-ray imaging," explains Prof. Eliaz.

Assessing drugs and implants

The system can also be used to rank the effectiveness of medications in an objective and timely manner. For example, Prof. Eliaz and his team did a study on a common drug called Hyaluronan, which is applied to the knees of patients suffering from osteoarthritis in a series of four injections. Before each of four injections, the researchers collected joint fluids and analyzed the fragments of cartilage and bone to determine whether the medication was able to slow down or prevent cartilage deterioration.

Prof. Eliaz’s bio-ferrograph showed a reduction in the concentrations of both cartilage and bone particles during treatment, with the best results appearing after two and three injections. After the fourth injection, however, the concentration of wear particles increased. This finding may eventually lead to the elimination of the fourth injection in the series, he says, reducing both the discomfort to the patient and the associated costs.

According to Prof. Eliaz, bio-ferrography has an additional application in the field of orthopedic implants. It can be used to predict the lifespan of artificial joints during the research and development stage, and later to monitor their degradation in the body and help physicians decide whether to replace them if a catastrophic failure looms.

"We can use this technology at the design stage to determine how new geometries, dimensions and materials affect the implant's functionality," says Prof. Eliaz. "Even after implantation, doctors can test synovial fluids to determine whether an implant is eroding, and at what rate."


What Will Threaten Us in 2040?
11/17/2010

Could terrorists of the future use a swarm of tiny robots — less an a quarter-inch high — to attack their targets? Will new bio materials be able to target individuals carrying specific genetic markers? Could cyber-attackers melt down a nuclear facility with the press of a "return" key, or implant chips to control our minds?

These scenarios may sound like science fiction, but according to Dr. Yair Sharan, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Technological Analysis and Forecasting (ICTAF) at Tel Aviv University, they're all within the realm of possibility in the next few decades. That's why it's critical for nations to be aware of the risks, and primed to mitigate them to avert another 9/11 or Mumbai terror attack.

As head of a pan-European project called FESTOS (Foresight of Evolving Security Threats Posed by Emerging Technologies: http://www.festos.org), Dr. Sharan and his colleagues are looking 30 years into the future to determine what our real technological threats will be. At the end of their three-year project, already underway, they'll issue a detailed task report to describe the threats and suggest to leaders of democratic nations how they can avoid them.

Forecasting disaster

Part of ICTAF's work looks for "signals" in politics, news reports, and advanced high-tech coverage to assess what technologies and applications could be used for future crime and terror.  "While America did not foresee the scale of 9/11, the signs were there that such an act was a possible event," says Dr. Sharan. He calls 9/11 an example of a "wild card" — an event or scenario with a low probability and a very high impact. "Our mission is to forecast wild card calamities, natural and manmade, so that nations can be alert and poised to avoid human casualties."

The FESTOS team's method also uses questionnaires and interviews with 250 experts from the United States and Europe in a variety of disciplines including chemistry, robotics and computer sciences.  The research team analyzes the data to determine and classify future threats, and proposes strategies to mitigate the risks.

At Tel Aviv University, researchers dig into the numbers to estimate threat probabilities. With the input of technology pioneers and scientists, they are exploring what inventions might be available that are meant to improve our lives, but have the potential to be used for malicious purposes. They are "technology mapping," looking into possibilities such as robot terrorists, dangerous new chemicals, and pioneering materials born of biotech and nanotech.

The probability is that tomorrow's terror attacks will be information technology-related, Dr. Sharan predicts. Forecasters envision an attack on a country's energy supply, or a cyber attack on a major airport, especially since hackers of the White House and the Iran nuclear facility have shown how vulnerable critical infrastructure systems can be.

Experience with terrorism provides an advantage

Unfortunately, Dr. Sharan observes, democratic nations like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain have learned over the last decade that threats from terror are not limited to Israel. But Israel's unrelenting experience with terrorism, and Tel Aviv University's demonstrated expertise in forecasting, have created a laboratory for work that can have a profound impact on Western policy making and planning. And knowing what's possible will arm future leaders with the tools to protect their citizens.

After the forecasts in the FESTOS study are collected, the results will be shared with decision and policy makers in governments in Europe, Israel, the USA and other democratic nations. Policy makers will then be able to prepare for "foreseen" surprises.

Tel Aviv University is also taking a leading role in another significant foresight project. ICTAF centre now heads the Israel component of the Millennium Project — previously under the auspices of the United Nations — to assess the future state of the world in the areas of politics, science and technology, health practice, and economics.


Out-Sniffing Bomb-Sniffing Dogs
11/10/2010

Dogs have long been called man's best bomb detector — until now.

A Tel Aviv University scientist leads a research team that has developed a powerful electronic sensor to detect multiple kinds of explosives — including those used in the recent Yemeni bomb threat. Based on nanotechnology advances, the new sensor is small, portable, and is more sensitive and reliable at detecting explosives than any sniffer dog, says its lead researcher Prof. Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry.

With scientific findings on it published recently in the prestigious Angewandte Chemie, the new device is attracting considerable attention from security companies and fellow scientists.

Capable of detecting numerous types of explosives, Prof. Patolsky says the sensor is especially effective at detecting TNT. Existing methods and devices used to trace the explosive have the drawbacks of high cost, lengthy decoding times, size, and a need for expert analyses: "There is a need for a small, inexpensive, handheld instrument capable of detecting explosives quickly, reliably and efficiently," says Patolsky.

According to the researchers, this new sensor can out-sniff even a champion sniffer canine.

Portable and hidden from view

The device is made from an array of silicon nanowires, coated with a compound that binds to explosives to form an electronic device — a nanotransistor. In order to enhance the chips' sensitivity even further, the scientists developed each one with 200 individual sensors that work in harmony to detect different kinds of explosives with an unprecedented degree of reliability, efficiency and speed.

One major advantage of the new sensor is its portability — it can be carried from place to place by hand. It is also capable of detecting explosives at a distance. It can be mounted on a wall, with no need to bring it into contact with the item being checked. And unlike other explosives sensors, it enables definitive identification of the explosive that it has detected. To date. the device has not had a single detection error.

Security companies are taking note. The American company Nanergy Inc. has developed a prototype based on the patent, and is already in contact with potential partners to develop explosives sensors for the commercial market.

Headed by Prof. Patolsky, who recently returned to Israel from Harvard University, the research team is considered to be one of the world's leaders in developing nano-based sensors that can detect chemical and biological molecules.

Such sensors may be used to detect not only explosives, but also biological toxins and threats, such as anthrax, cholera or botulinum. Looking beyond national security, the sensor offers attractive applications in the medical field as well.


A Global Crystal Ball
11/3/2010

From science and technology to economics and social unrest, future predictions are notoriously unreliable. Undaunted, scientists at Tel Aviv University's Interdisciplinary Center for Technology Analysis Forecasting (ICTAF) have created the "Millenium Project," which aims to predict future trends and warn powerbrokers of problems that may arise, a recent story in Israel21c reports.

ICTAF's confidence arises from the quality of their researchers — experts from across the academic spectrum, from science to the humanities. They are charged with the task of predicting future opportunities and challenges, and what implications these developments may have for our society. "The center was created in order to help decision-makers do better thinking about future processes, and to make better decisions based on developments in science and technology," says Dr. Yair Sharon, ICTAF’s director.

Their forecasts have implications for commercial enterprises as well as governments. The center is examining a broad range of issues that will affect everyone, such as sustainable development, science and technology, energy, water, population, resources, global democratization, the future of communications, health issues, peace and security, the status of women and organized crime.

For the full story on the Millennium Project and Tel Aviv University's ICTAF, see:

http://israel21c.org/201009128308/social-action/the-power-to-predict-the-future

Nothing New Under the Sun? Not So.
10/25/2010

Prof. Ehud Gazit's laboratory at Tel Aviv University's Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology has developed the basis for a new material, a "revolutionary new spherical nanostructure."

The scientists report that it is the first "bio-inspired nano-material known to date that is mechanically equal and even superior to many metallic substances." Developed in conjunction with other Israeli scientists, the lightweight and inexpensive material is based on simple organic elements, but it's strong as steel, biologically compatible with human tissues, and safe for the environment.

Reported in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the material could be developed into durable composite materials for lightweight bullet-proof vests. Because of its strength and weight, it's also applicable to the space and aviation industries, has been determined biologically safe for medical implants.

Prof. Gazit is the Chairman of the Board of Ramot, Tel Aviv University's technology transfer company, and the university's Vice President for Research and Development. Previous research from Prof. Gazit's lab includes material for a "Window That Washes Itself" and nanotechnological methods of treating cancer.

For more information on this latest research breakthrough, see the Physorg Web site:
http://www.physorg.com/news205046528.html


A Tracking Device That Fits on the Head of a Pin
10/5/2010

Optical gyroscopes, also known as rotation sensors, are widely used as a navigational tool in vehicles from ships to airplanes, measuring the rotation rates of a vehicle on three axes to evaluate its exact position and orientation. Prof. Koby Scheuer of Tel Aviv University's School of Physical Engineering is now scaling down this crucial sensing technology for use in smartphones, medical equipment and more futuristic technologies.

Working in collaboration with Israel's Department of Defense, Prof. Scheuer and his team of researchers have developed nano-sized optical gyroscopes that can fit on the head of a pin — and, more usefully, on an average-sized computer chip — without compromising the device's sensitivity. These gyroscopes will have the ability to pick up smaller rotation rates, delivering higher accuracy while maintaining smaller dimensions, he says. The research was recently described in the journal Optics Express.

"Conventional gyroscopes look like a box, and weigh two or three pounds," Prof. Scheuer explains. "This is fine for an airplane, but if you're trying to fit a gyroscope onto a smaller piece of technology, such as a cellphone, the accuracy will be severely limited."

With laser precision

At the core of the new device are extremely small semi-conductor lasers. As the devices start to rotate, the properties of the light produced by the lasers changes, including the light's intensity and wavelength. Rotation rates can be determined by measuring these differences.

These lasers are a few tens-of-micrometers in diameter, as compared to the conventional gyroscope, which measures about 6 to 8 inches, says Prof. Scheuer. The device itself, when finished, will look like a small computer chip. Measuring a millimeter by a millimeter (0.04 inches by 0.04 inches), about the size of a grain of sand, the device can be built onto a larger chip that also contains other necessary electronics.

Prof. Scheuer and his team of researchers are currently working on lab demonstrators of the device, which he predicts will be ready for testing in a few years' time.

Tracking inside the body

When available, the nano-gyroscopes will improve technologies that we use every day. When you rotate an iPhone, for example, the screen adjusts itself accordingly. A nano-gyroscope would improve the performance of this feature and be sensitive to smaller changes in position, says Prof. Scheuer. And that's not all. Nano-gyroscopes integrated into common cellphones could provide a tracking function beyond the capabilities of existing GPS systems. "If you find yourself in a place without reception, you would be able to track your exact position without the GPS signal," he says.

There are benefits to medical science as well. Right now, small capsules that contain cameras pass through the body during some diagnostic procedures, but to know where the capsule is within a patient, doctors must track its signal from the outside. With the addition of a nano-gyroscope, explains Prof. Scheuer, the capsule would have a built-in navigation system, which would provide the ability to move the capsule to more specific and precise locations within the body.


How Safe Is Your Swipe?
9/20/2010

Used in a variety of products from credit cards to satellite televisions, secure chips are designed to keep encoded data safe. But hackers continue to develop methods to crack the chips' security codes and access the information within.

Thinking like hackers, Prof. Avishai Wool and his Ph.D. student Yossi Oren of Tel Aviv University's School of Electrical Engineering have developed an innovative way of extracting information from chip technology. By combining modern cryptology methods with constraint programming — an area of computer science designed to solve a series of complex equations — Prof. Wool and Oren were able to extract more information from secure chips. Their research, which could lead to important new advances in computer security, was recently presented at the 12th Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems (CHES) in Santa Barbara, CA.

Prof. Wool explains that cryptologists like himself try to stay one step ahead of attackers by thinking the way they do. "Companies need to know how secure their chip is, and how it can be cracked," he explains. "They need to know what they're up against."

Blocking out the "noise"

According to the researchers, the Achilles-heel of contemporary secure chips can be found in the chip's power supply. When a chip is in use, says Prof. Wool, it employs a miniscule amount of power. But the amount of this power, and how it fluctuates, depends on the kind of information the chip contains. By measuring the power fluctuations with an oscilloscope, a standard piece of lab equipment, and analyzing the data using appropriate algorithms, a potential hacker could decipher the information that the chip contains.

But extracting information in this way, through what the researchers call a "side channel," can be complex. When you do a power trace, says Prof. Wool, there is a lot of "noise" — inaccuracies that result from the different activities the chip is doing at the time. He and Oren have now identified a method for blocking out the "noise" that has proved to be more effective than previous methods.

When applied to information gathered from a power source, a computer program like the one Prof. Wool and Oren have created can sort through this "noise" to deliver a more accurate analysis of a chip's secret contents. Their program is based in "constraint programming" — the same computer programming approach used for complex scheduling programs like those used in the travel industry.

Knowing your enemy

No chip can be 100% secure, Prof. Wool admits. But he also stresses that it's important to explore the boundaries of how secure information can be extracted from these chips. An attacker could have access to a variety of computer technologies and equipment — so researchers need to know the type of resources required to break a code, explains Prof. Wool. He has provided information to U.S. passport authorities on how to make the chips in passports more secure.

"We need to think like the attackers," he says, "in order to raise the bar against them."


"Greening" Your Flat Screen TV
8/25/2010

Electronic products pollute our environment with a number of heavy metals before, during and after they're used. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfill come from discarded electronics. With flat screen TVs getting bigger and cheaper every year, environmental costs continue to mount.

To counter this, a new Tel Aviv University solution applies a discovery in nano-technology, based on self-assembled peptide nanotubes, to "green" the optics and electronics industry. Researchers Nadav Amdursky and Prof. Gil Rosenman of Tel Aviv University's Department of Electrical Engineering say their technology could make flat screen TV production green and can even make medical equipment — like subcutaneous ultrasound devices — more sensitive.

Inspired by a biomaterial involved in Alzheimer's disease research discovered by Prof. Ehud Gazit of the university's Department of Microbiology and Biotechnology, the scientists developed a new nano-material, applying the scientific disciplines of both biology and physics. This biological material is the basis for their new, environmentally-friendly variety of light-emitting diodes (LED) used in both consumer and medical electronics.

TV in a test tube?

Their new invention is more than a clean, green way to create light, the researchers say. It also generates a strong signal that can be used in other applications in the nano-world of motors, actuators and ultrasound.

"We are growing our own light sources," says Amdursky, a doctoral student working under Prof. Rosenman's supervision. The organic nano-lightsticks he and his supervisors have developed using organic chemistry are made from carbon, making them cheap as well as environmentally friendly.

Unlike conventional light sources, the biologically-derived light source has a nano-scale architecture, easing the integration into light-emitting devices such as LED TVs and improving the resolution of the picture as well. The Tel Aviv University team has recently written a patent to cover their "organic LED" lights.

From living rooms to hospital rooms

According to Amdursky, the light emitted by the new light sticks is not appreciably different than that which emanates from today's inorganically engineered LED lights.

"We don't need a special plant, bacterium or a big machine to grow these structures in," says Amdursky, who says the applications of the technology are wider than the widest screen television. The core technology and structures, described in Advanced Materials, Nano Letters, and ACS Nano, exhibit "piezoelectric characteristics," necessary for the development of tiny nano-ultrasound machines that could scan cells from inside the body. Piezoelectric motors or actuators are only dozens of nanometers wide, which can lead to their application in energy harvesting systems as super-capacitors — large energy storage devices, necessary for the solar energy and wind energy business.


Micromachines for a Safer World
8/10/2010

Tiny sensors known as accelerometers are everywhere. The near-weightless technology can measure the impact of a dangerous tackle on a football player's helmet, control the flow of highway and runway traffic, analyze a golf pro's swing, orient the next generation of smart phones, and keeping fighter jets and missiles on target.

And as sensing devices improve, the possibilities for what they can measure are infinite. Teams of Tel Aviv University scientists are at the heart of the tiny world of MEMS — microelectromechanical systems — to make these systems even smaller, cheaper, and more sensitive by marrying old-school mechanics with advanced electrical engineering.

"The widespread penetration of miniature MEMS sensors into the devices surrounding us is transforming our way of life," says Dr. Slava Krylov of Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Engineering, where his theoretical and practical work is leading to applications that could transform multiple industries.

Adding mechanics to electronics

In a recent publication of the IEEE Sensors Journal, he and his doctoral student Assaf Ya'akobovitz outlined ways to improve the sensitivity of accelerometers by using an efficient yet simple and manufacturable design, which can be applied in sport, communication, transportation and defense.

Dr. Krylov and Ya'akobovitz showed, theoretically and experimentally, how amplification techniques developed at their lab can be used for improving the performance of micro-accelerometers. Instead of electronically amplifying the extremely small signals produced by the accelerometer, the researchers incorporated a mechanical amplification, a sort of a miniature clock hand, in order to generate a larger signal output, thereby reducing the devices' noise and improving their sensitivity.

Today, Dr. Krylov points out, almost every kind of machine used in transportation and communication relies on accelerometers. They are applied in high-end navigation devices for airplanes and missiles, and built into iPhones as motion sensors. His latest advances in sensitivity enhancement could be applied to all of these current uses, and in lucrative and untapped business applications as well, he says. In the car safety industry alone, the market is worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Keeping space missions on track

Dr. Krylov's device architecture uses a tiny electrode, a silicon chip, and a mechanical transformer coupled with an optical sensor to amplify the tiniest changes in motion and acceleration. Currently, the device is about 1 millimeter in diameter, but it can be manufactured at an even smaller size than that. "It's always better to be smaller," he says, explaining that the accuracy of the devices is especially critical on space missions, when a fraction of distance and time can alter the course of a space vehicle or satellite forever.

Designed to be created in mass numbers for the mass market, Dr. Krylov is also taking the core technology from his accelerometers to be applied in new mind-boggling directions — to harvesting clean energy and in novel medical applications. But these developments, he says, are farther in the future.


A Pinch of Light
7/6/2010

Star Trek fans will remember "tractor beams," lasers that allowed the Starship Enterprise to trap and move objects. Tel Aviv University is now turning this science fiction into science fact — on a nano scale.

A new tool developed by Tel Aviv University, Holographic Optical Tweezers (HOTs) use holographic technology to manipulate up to 300 nanoparticles at a time, such as beads of glass or polymer, that are too small and delicate to be handled with traditional laboratory instruments. The technology, also known as "optical tweezers," could form the basis for tomorrow's ultra-fast, light-powered communication devices and quantum computers, says Dr. Yael Roichman of Tel Aviv University's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry.

She's using these tweezers to build nano structures that control beams of light, aiding in the development of anything from optical microscopes to light-fuelled computer technology, she reports.

Holding onto the light

HOTS are a new family of optical tools that use a strongly-focused light beam to trap, manipulate and transform small amounts of matter. First proposed as a scientific theory in 1986 and prototyped by a University of Chicago team in 1997, holographic optical tweezers have been lauded as indispensible for researching cutting-edge ideas in physics, chemistry, and biology.

Dr. Roichman and her team of researchers are currently pioneering the use of optical tweezers to create the next generation of photonic devices. Made out of carefully arranged particles of materials such as silicon oxide and titanium oxide, these devices have the ability to insulate light, allowing less energy to be lost in transmission.

"Our invention could increase transmission speed and save energy, important for long-life batteries in computers, for instance," says Dr. Roichman.

Photons are already used in optical fibers that bring us everyday luxuries like cable TV. But Dr. Roichman says this technology can be taken much further. In her lab at Tel Aviv University, she is advancing the previous study of photonic crystals, which control and harness light, by manipulating a variety of particles to create 3D heterogeneous structures. The ability to insulate light in a novel way, preserving its potential energy, is central to this goal.

No known material today can resist the flow of light — its energy is either absorbed by, reflected off, or passed through materials. But Dr. Roichman has devised a new layering technique using special crystals central to the creation of photonic devices. These photonic crystals are arranged to create a path along which light can travel. If they're arranged correctly, she says, the light is trapped along the path.

In Dr. Roichman's approach, different materials are added to absorb or amplify light as required. She is hopeful that the ability to build these devices will transform communications, telescopic instruments, and even medical technology, making them more efficient and powerful.

Shining a light into a bacterium’s belly

One project Dr. Roichman is working on tracks the effectiveness of antibiotics. Her improvements to optical microscopy will, for the first time, allow researchers to look at the internal processes within bacteria and see how different types of antibiotics attack them. More than that, her optical tweezers can isolate the bacteria to be studied, handling them without killing them.

Dr. Roichman, whose previous research was published in the journals Applied Optics and Physics Review Letters, notes that HOTs give researchers a platform with infinite possibilities. They give science a valuable tool to reach into the microscopic world — and their building potential is endless.

Dr. Roichman is the incumbent of The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Career Development Chair.


TAU's Constantiner Prize Awarded to Israel's Center for Educational Technology
5/12/2010

This year's Dr. Jaime Constantiner Prize in Jewish Education, awarded annually by Tel Aviv University, was presented to the Center for Educational Technology (CET) of Tel Aviv, an organization dedicated to bringing 21st century technologies to the classroom to enrich learning opportunities.

CET's award-winning project comprises a series of websites designed to provide Israeli students with access to Jewish biblical, liturgical, and exegetical texts, as well as a means of analyzing, discussing, and interacting with them.

The award, given during the university's annual Board of Governors meeting to honor the late Dr. Jaime Constantiner for his contributions to Jewish education in the Diaspora, was presented by Aron Shai, TAU Rector-elect, at the Trubowicz Building of Law. Among the honored guests in attendance were Dr. Constantiner's sons Dr. Arturo and Victor Constantiner, Arturo's wife Caren and their daughter Claudia, members of the TAU Board of Governors, and students and staff of Tel Aviv University.

A model for Jewish learning

Receiving the award, Center for Educational Technology CEO Gila Ben-Har spoke passionately about her personal connection to Jewish tradition as the inspiration for initiating this ambitious endeavor. From her experience as both student and educator, she found that "schools offered a limited encounter with Jewish texts." To address that, CET embarked on a project to bring together 21st century technology with centuries of Jewish literary tradition in a pluralistic environment so that the current generation could tap into Jewish tradition in an interactive manner.

CET now operates six websites geared towards Jewish education in the 21st century. Over 300 employees are working on expanding operations to incorporate a greater number of texts, and continuously innovate how students can access and interact with their Jewish cultural heritage. CET's mission, Ben-Har says, is to see Tel Aviv, "the Hebrew city," get back in touch with Jewish traditional culture. These tools are designed to achieve that.

Across the generations

American Friend Dr. Arturo Constantiner, the son of Dr. Jaime Constantiner, is a supporter of Israel and Tel Aviv University — both core elements of a vibrant familial legacy. Of his family's ongoing commitment to Jewish education, he says, "I think it's important that our kids know we have a Jewish tradition to be proud of." In 2004, Dr. Constantiner received the University's highest award — an honorary doctorate degree — in recognition of his achievements and dedication.

The Constantiner-Sourasky family's decades-long commitment has produced a number of major university projects. Tel Aviv University's Central Library is named for his grandfather, Elias Sourasky, whom TAU awarded an honorary doctorate in 1971. His father, Jaime Constantiner, was a leader in the movement to spread Jewish education throughout the diaspora, and served as Vice Chair of TAU's Board of Governors; he was made an honorary doctor by TAU in 1980. His mother, Joan Constantiner, played an important role in spreading Jewish culture throughout Latin America.

To honor their parents, the Constantiner brothers — Roberto, Arturo, Victor, Teodoro z”l, and Leon — contributed to the School of Education, naming it The Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education. The Constantiner brothers are actively involved with the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov), and continue to build on their family's passionate legacy of support for Jewish continuity and Jewish identity.


An Optical Traffic Cop for Rapid Communication
5/3/2010

It looks like a piece of gel that slips into the sole of your sneaker, but it's a new nano-based technology that can make computers and the Internet hundreds of times faster — a communications technology "enabler" that may be in use only five or ten years in the future, currently being created by Dr. Koby Scheuer of Tel Aviv University's School of Electrical Engineering.

Dr. Scheuer has developed a new plastic-based technology for the nano-photonics market, which manufactures optical devices and components. Reported in the journal Optics Express, his plastic-based "filter" is made from nanometer-sized grooves embedded into the plastic. When used in fiber optics cable ches, this new device will make our communication devices smaller, more flexible and more powerful, he says.

"Once Americans have a fiber optics cable coming into every home, all communication will go through it — telephone, cable TV, the Internet. But to avoid bottlenecks of information, we need to separate the information coming through into different channels. Our polymeric devices can do that in the optical domain — at a speed, quality and cost that the semi-conductor industry can't even imagine," Dr. Scheuer says.

Filtering the noise from the information

Every optical device used in today's communication tools has a filter. Whether it's the drive reader in your MacBook or the cable that brings cheap long-distance phone calls to your phone, each system uses filters to clean up the signal and interpret the different messages. In the next decade, fiber optic cables that now run from city to city will feed directly into every individual home. When that technology comes to light, the new plastic-based switches could revolutionize the way we communicate.

"Right now, we could transmit all of the written text of the world though a single fiber in a fiber optics cable in just a few seconds," says Dr. Scheuer. "But in order to handle these massive amounts of communication data, we need filters to make sense of the incoming information. Ours uses a plastic-based switch, replacing hard-to-fabricate and expensive semi-conductors."

Semi-conductors, grown on crystals in sterile labs and processed in special ovens, take days and sometimes months to manufacture. They are delicate and inflexible as well, Dr. Scheuer explains. "Our plastic polymer switches come in an easy-to-work-with liquid solution. Using a method called 'stamping,' almost any laboratory can make optical devices out of the silicon rubber mold we've developed."

The silicon rubber mold is scored with nano-sized grooves, invisible to the eye and each less than a millionth of a meter in width. A plastic solution can be poured over the mold to replicate the optical switch in minutes. When in place in a fiber-optic network, the grooves on the switch modulate light coming in through the cables, and the data is filtered and encoded into usable information.

One word of advice: "Plastics"

His biggest hurdle, says Dr. Scheuer, is in convincing the communications industry that polymers are stable materials.

"There is a lot of prejudice in this industry against plastics. But this approach could take us to a new level of communication," the researcher says. He also notes that the process is not much different from the way that mass numbers of DVDs are produced in a factory — except Dr. Scheuer works on a nano, not a "giant" micro, scale.

His device can also be used in the gyros of planes, ships and rockets; inserted into cell phones; and made a part of flexible virtual reality gloves so doctors could "operate" on computer networks over large distances.


An Artificial Eye on Your Driving
4/20/2010

With just a half second's notice, a driver can swerve to avoid a fatal accident or slam on the brakes to miss hitting a child running after a ball. But first, the driver must perceive the danger.

Research shows that a rapid alert system can help mitigate the risks, fatalities and severe injuries from road accidents, says Prof. Shai Avidan of Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Engineering. He is currently collaborating with researchers from General Motors Research Israel to keep cars on the road and people out of hospitals.

An expert in image processing, Prof. Avidan and his team are working to develop advanced algorithms that will help cameras mounted on GM cars detect threats, alerting drivers to make split-second decisions. His research has been published in leading journals, including the IEEE Transaction on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence and featured at conferences in the field.

The challenge, says Prof. Avidan, is to develop a system that can recognize people, distinguishing them from other moving objects — and to create a model that can react almost instantaneously. Ultimately, he is hoping computer vision research will make cars smarter, and roads a lot safer.

An upgrade you can't live without

Cars are not much different from one another. They all have engines, seats, and steering wheels. But new products are adding another dimension by making cars more intelligent. One such product is the smart camera system by MobilEye, an Israeli startup company. Prof. Avidan was part of the MobilEye technical team that developed a system to detect vehicles and track them in real-time.

He is now extending that research to develop the next generation of smart cameras — cameras that are aware of their surroundings. His goal is a camera capable of distinguishing pedestrians from other moving objects that can then warn the driver of an impending accident.

The challenge is in the development of a method that can detect and categorize moving objects reliably and quickly. Prof. Avidan hopes to realize such a method by combining powerful algorithms to recognize and track objects. Such a tool could double check for vehicles in your blind spot, help you swerve when a child runs into the street, or automatically block your door from opening if a cyclist is racing toward you, he says.

Eventually, he hopes cameras will be able to recognize just about anything moving through the physical world, offering a tantalizing vision of applications such as autonomous vehicles. The underlying technology could also be used in computer gaming to track a player's movements, or for surveillance to detect a potential intruder.

An automatic auto response

Previously, detection systems used radar, which is expensive and not particularly sensitive to human beings. A smart camera fuelled by a powerful chip, on the other hand, could detect the activities of people and animals, and prompt the car to react accordingly, braking more or locking the doors, for example.

To date, Prof. Avidan has demonstrated that his technology works on infrared, greyscale, and color cameras. "Cameras are quite dumb machines unless you know how to extract information from them," he says. "Now, as the price of cameras drop and computer power grows, we'll see more exciting applications that will keep us safe and make our lives more comfortable."


Safer Swiping While Voting and Globetrotting
4/15/2010

Since 2007, every new U.S. passport has been outfitted with a computer chip. Embedded in the back cover of the passport, the "e-passport" contains biometric data, electronic fingerprints and pictures of the holder, and a wireless radio frequency identification (RFID) transmitter.

Although the system was designed to operate at close range, hackers were able to access it from afar — until research by Prof. Avishai Wool of Tel Aviv University's School of Electrical Engineering helped ensure that the computer chip in American e-passports could be read only when the passport is opened. The research has been cited by organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Now, a new study from Prof. Wool finds serious security drawbacks in similar chips that are being embedded in credit, debit and "smart" cards. The vulnerabilities of this electronic approach — and the vulnerability of the private information contained in the chips — are becoming more acute. Using simple devices constructed from $20 disposable cameras and copper cooking-gas pipes, Prof. Wool and his students Yossi Oren and Dvir Schirman have demonstrated how easily the cards' radio frequency (RF) signals can be disrupted. The work will be presented at the IEEE RFID conference in Orlando, FL, this month.

More than one way to hack a chip

Prof. Wool's most recent research centers on the new "e-voting" technology being implemented in Israel. "We show how the Israeli government's new system based on the RFID chip is a very risky approach for security reasons. It allows hackers who are not much more than amateurs to break the system," Prof. Wool explains. "One way to catch hackers, criminals and terrorists is by thinking like one."

In his lab, Prof. Wool constructed an attack mechanism — an RFID "zapper" — from a disposable camera. Replacing the camera's bulb with an RFID antenna, he showed how the EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) signal produced by the camera could destroy the data on nearby RFID chips such as ballots, credit cards or passports. "In a voting system, this would be the equivalent of burning ballots — but without the fire and smoke," he says.

Another attack involves jamming the radio frequencies that read the card. Though the card's transmissions are designed to be read by antennae no more than two feet distant, Prof. Wool and his students demonstrated how the transmissions can be jammed by a battery-powered transmitter 20 yards away. This means that an attacker can disable an entire voting station from across the street. Similarly, a terror group could "jam" passport systems at U.S. border controls relatively easily, he suggests.

The most insidious type of attack is the "relay attack." In this scenario, the voting station assumes it is communicating with an RFID ballot near it &#mdash; but it's easy for a hacker or terrorist to make equipment that can trick it. Such an attack can be used to transfer votes from party to party and nullify votes to undesired parties, Prof. Wool demonstrates. A relay attack may also be used to allow a terrorist to cross a border using someone else's e-passport.

How to make "smart cards" smarter

"All the new technologies we have now seem really cool. But when anything like this first comes onto the market, it will be fraught with security holes," Prof. Wool warns. "In America the Federal government poured a lot of money into e-voting, only to discover later that the deployed systems were vulnerable. Over the last few years we've seen a trend back towards systems with paper trails as a result."

But there are some small steps that can be taken to make smart cards smarter, says Prof. Wool. The easiest one is to shield the card with something as simple as aluminium foil to insulate the e-transmission. In the case of e-voting, a ballot box could be made of conductive materials. The State Department has already taken Prof. Wool's advice: since 2007, they've also added conductive fibres to the back of every American passport.


Laser Security for the Internet
3/23/2010

A British computer hacker equipped with a "Dummies" guide recently tapped into the Pentagon. As hackers get smarter, computers get more powerful and national security is put at risk. The same goes for your own personal and financial information transmitted by phone, on the Internet or through bank machines.

Now a new invention developed by Dr. Jacob Scheuer of Tel Aviv University's School of Electrical Engineering promises an information security system that can beat today's hackers — and the hackers of the future — with existing fiber optic and computer technology. Transmitting binary lock-and- information in the form of light pulses, his device ensures that a shared key code can be unlocked by the sender and receiver, and absolutely nobody else. He will present his new findings to peers at the next laser and electro-optics conference this May at the Conference for Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) in San Jose, California.

"When the RSA system for digital information security was introduced in the 1970s, the researchers who invented it predicted that their 200-bit key would take a billion years to crack," says Dr. Scheuer. "It was cracked five years ago. But it's still the most secure system for consumers to use today when shopping online or using a bank card. As computers become increasingly powerful, though, the idea of using the RSA system becomes more fragile."

Plugging a leak in a loophole

Dr. Sheuer says the solution lies in a new kind of system to keep prying eyes off secure information. "Rather than developing the lock or the key, we've developed a system which acts as a type of key bearer," he explains.

But how can a secure key be delivered over a non-secure network — a necessary step to get a message from one user to another? If a hacker sees how a key is being sent through the system, that hacker could be in a position to take the key. Dr. Sheuer has found a way to transmit a binary code (the key bearer) in the form of 1s and 0s, but using light and lasers instead of numbers. "The trick," says Dr. Scheuer, "is for those at either end of the fiber optic link to send different laser signals they can distinguish between, but which look identical to an eavesdropper."

New laser is key

Dr. Scheuer developed his system using a special laser he invented, which can reach over 3,000 miles without any serious parts of the signal being lost. This approach makes it simpler and more reliable than quantum cryptography, a new technology that relies on the quantum properties of photons, explains Dr. Scheuer. With the right investment to test the theory, Dr. Scheuer says it is plausible and highly likely that the system he has built is not limited to any range on earth, even a round-the-world link, for international communications.

"We've already published the theoretical idea and now have developed a preliminary demonstration in my lab. Once both parties have the key they need, they could send information without any chance of detection. We were able to demonstrate that, if it's done right, the system could be absolutely secure. Even with a quantum computer of the future, a hacker couldn't decipher the key," Dr. Scheuer says.


Seeing a Bionic Eye on Medicine's Horizon
3/22/2010

Television's Six Million Dollar Man foresaw a future when man and machine would become one. New research at Tel Aviv University is making this futuristic "vision" of bionics a reality.

Prof. Yael Hanein of Tel Aviv University's School of Electrical Engineering has foundational research that may give sight to blind eyes, merging retinal nerves with electrodes to stimulate cell growth. Successful so far in animal models, this research may one day lay the groundwork for retinal implants in people.

But that's a way off, she says. Until then, her half-human, half-machine invention can be used by drug developers investigating new compounds or formulations to treat delicate nerve tissues in the brain. Prof. Hanein's research group published its work recently in the journal Nanotechnology.

Implanting the idea

"We're working to interface man-made technology with neurons," says Prof. Hanein. "It can be helpful in in vitro and in in vivo applications, and provides an understanding of how neurons work so we can build better devices and drugs," she says.

She's developed a spaghetti like mass of nano-sized (one-millionth of a millimetre) carbon tubes, and using an electric current has managed to coax living neurons from the brains of rats to grow on this man-made structure. The growth of living cells on the nano substrate is a very complicated process, she says, but they adhere well to the structure, fusing with the synthetic electrical and physical interface. Using the new technology developed in Prof. Hanein’s laboratory, her graduate student Mark Shein has been observing how neurons communicate and work together.

"We are attempting to answer very basic questions in science," Prof. Hanein explains. "Neurons migrate and assemble themselves, and using approaches we've developed, we are now able to 'listen' to the way the neurons fire and communicate with one another using electrical impulses. Listening to neurons 'talking' allows us to answer the most basic questions of how groups of nerves work together. If we can investigate functional neuronal networks in the lab, we can study what can’t be seen or heard in the complete brain, where there are too many signals in one place."

Paging Steve Austin

One application of Prof. Hanein's research is a new approach to aid people with retinal degeneration diseases. There are several retinal diseases which are incurable, such as retinitis pigmentosa, and some researchers are investigating a prosthetic device which could replace the damaged cells.

"Neurons like to form good links with our special nanotechnology, and we're now investigating applications for retinal implants," says Prof. Hanein. "Our retinal implant attempts to replace activity in places of the damaged cells, and in the case of retinal diseases, the damaged photoreceptors."

The team's major breakthrough is creating these man-made living "devices" on a flexible nano-material suited for the small area in the eye where new neuron connection growth would be needed. This is the first step in a long clinical process that may lead to improved vision — and perhaps, one day, a real-life six million dollar man.  


A More Sensitive Sensor
3/17/2010

Electro-mechanical sensors tell the airbag in your car to inflate and rotate your iPhone screen to match your position on the couch. Now a research group of Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Engineering is making the technology even more useful.

Prof. Yael Hanein, Dr. Slava Krylov and their doctoral student Assaf Ya'akobovitz have set out to make sensors for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) significantly more sensitive and reliable than they are today. And they're shrinking their work to nano-size to do it.

More sensitive sensors means more thrilling videogames, better functioning prosthetic limbs, cars that can detect collisions and dangerous turns before they occur, and — in the defense industry — missiles that can reach a target far more precisely.

Miniscule earthquakes

Able to "feel" and sense the movement of individual atoms, the researchers' new MEMS sensing device uses small carbon tubes, nano in size — about one-billionth of a meter long. Creating these tiny tubes using a process involving methane gas and a furnace, Prof. Hanein has developed a method whereby they arrange themselves on a surface of a silicon chip to accurately sense tiny movements and changes in gravity.

In the device developed by Prof. Hanein's and Dr. Krylov's team, a very tiny nanometer scale tube is added onto much larger micrometer-scale MEMS devices. Small deformities in the crystal structure of the tubes register a change in the movement of the nano object, and deliver the amplitude of the movement through an electrical impulse. "It's such a tiny thing," Prof. Hanein says. "But at our resolution, we are able to feel the motion of objects as small as a few atoms."

"Originally developed mainly for the car industry, miniature sensors are all around us," says Prof. Hanein. "We've been able to fabricate a new device where the nano structures are put onto a big surface — and they can be arranged in a process that doesn't require human intervention, so they're easier to manufacture. We can drive these nano-sensing tubes to wherever we need them to go, which could be very convenient and cost-effective across a broad spectrum of industries."

Until now, Prof. Hanein explains, the field of creating sensors for nanotechnology has been primarily based on manual operation requiring time-consuming techniques. Prof. Hanein and her team have developed a sensitive but abundant and cost-effective material that can be coated onto prosthetic limbs, inserted into new video games for more exciting play, and used by the auto industry to detect a potential collision before it becomes fatal.

The technology has been presented in a number of peer-reviewed journals including the Journal of Micromechanics and Micro-engineering; at a MEMS conference in Hong Kong; and at a nano conference in Tirol, Austria in March.

Markets in motion

The market for MEMS devices, which take mechanical signals and convert them into electrical impulses, is estimated to be worth billions. "The main challenge facing the industry today is to make these basic sensors a lot more sensitive, to recognize minute changes in motion and position. Obviously there is a huge interest from the military, which recognizes the navigation potential of such technologies, but there are also humanitarian and recreational uses that can come out of such military developments," Prof. Hanein stresses. More sensitive MEMS could play a role in guided surgery, for example.

The TAU team is working on optimizing the system, hoping to make it at least 100 times more sensitive than any sensor device on the market today.


Sleeping Off Childhood?
12/23/2009

Are your 11- and 12-year-olds staying up later, then dozing off at school the next day? Parents and educators who notice poor sleeping patterns in their children should take note of new research from Tel Aviv University ― and prepare themselves for bigger changes to come.

Prof. Avi Sadeh of TAU’s Department of Psychology suggests that changes in children's sleep patterns are evident just before the onset of physical changes associated with puberty. He counsels parents and educators to make sure that pre-pubescent children get the good, healthy sleep that their growing and changing bodies need.

“It is very important for parents to be aware of the importance of sleep for their developing children and to maintain their supervision throughout the adolescent years," says Sadeh, who reported his research findings in a recent issue of the journal Sleep. “School health education should also provide children with compelling information on how insufficient sleep compromises their well-being, psychological functioning and school achievements.”

Every minute counts

Results of the study, supported by the Israel Science Foundation, show that over a two-year period, sleep onset was significantly delayed by an average of 50 minutes in the study subjects, and sleep time was significantly reduced by an average of 37 minutes. Girls also had higher sleep efficiency and reported fewer night wakings than boys. For both, initial levels of sleep predicted an increase in pubertal development over time. This suggests that the neurobehavioral changes associated with puberty may be seen earlier in sleep organization than in bodily changes.

“Biological factors have a significant influence on sleep during puberty, although psychosocial issues such as school demands, social activities and technological distractions can also lead to the development of bad sleep habits,” he explains.

According to Prof. Sadeh, sleep-wake organization undergoes significant changes during the transition to adolescence. These changes include a delayed sleep phase, which involves a tendency towards later bedtimes and risetimes; shorter sleep, which is associated with increased levels of daytime sleepiness; and irregular sleep patterns, which involve sleeping very little on weekdays and sleeping longer during weekends to compensate. During maturation, adolescents also develop a greater tolerance for sleep deprivation or extended wakefulness.

Catching up on weekends

Sleep-wake patterns were observed subjectively through the use of sleep diaries and objectively through the use of an actigraph, which the 94 children involved in the study (10 and 11 years old at its start) wore on their wrists. The assessment was repeated annually for two successive years. Eighty-two children completed the second assessment, and 72 completed the third assessment.

The authors noted that Israel has a six-day school week, with Friday the only day that is not followed by school. As expected, significant differences were found between sleep on Friday nights and sleep on school nights. On Fridays, sleep onset was delayed, sleep time was extended and sleep quality was poorer in comparison with school nights. These differences were not associated with puberty status or gender, suggesting that the tendency for weekend compensatory sleep is relatively steady over the period of early adolescence.

“A deeper understanding of the interrelationships between sleep and pubertal maturation may provide new insights into the emergence of vulnerabilities for behavioral and emotional health problems in early adolescence,” says Prof. Sadeh. “This could improve prevention and early intervention efforts.”


A Window that Washes Itself?
12/3/2009

A coating on windows or solar panels that repels grime and dirt? Expanded battery storage capacities for the next electric car? New Tel Aviv University research, just published in Nature Nanotechnology, details a breakthrough in assembling peptides at the nano-scale level that could make these futuristic visions come true in just a few years.

Operating in the range of 100 nanometers (roughly one-billionth of a meter) and even smaller, graduate student Lihi Adler-Abramovich and a team working under Prof. Ehud Gazit in TAU's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology have found a novel way to control the atoms and molecules of peptides so that they "grow" to resemble small forests of grass. These "peptide forests" repel dust and water — a perfect self-cleaning coating for windows or solar panels which, when dirty, become far less efficient.

"This is beautiful and protean research," says Adler-Abramovich, a Ph.D. candidate. "It began as an attempt to find a new cure for Alzheimer's disease. To our surprise, it also had implications for electric cars, solar energy and construction."

As cheap as the sweetener in your soda

A world leader in nanotechnology research, Prof. Gazit has been developing arrays of self-assembling peptides made from proteins for the past six years. His lab, in collaboration with a group led by Prof. Gil Rosenman of TAU's Faculty of Engineering, has been working on new applications for this basic science for the last two years.

Using a variety of peptides, which are as simple and inexpensive to produce as the artificial sweetener aspartame, the researchers create their "self-assembled nano-tubules" in a vacuum under high temperatures. These nano-tubules can withstand extreme heat and are resistant to water.

"We are not manufacturing the actual material but developing a basic-science technology that could lead to self-cleaning windows and more efficient energy storage devices in just a few years," says Adler-Abramovich. "As scientists, we focus on pure research. Thanks to Prof. Gazit's work on beta amyloid proteins, we were able to develop a technique that enables short peptides to 'self-assemble,' forming an entirely new kind of coating which is also a super-capacitor."

As a capacitor with unusually high energy density, the nano-tech material could give existing electric batteries a boost — necessary to start an electric car, go up a hill, or pass other cars and trucks on the highway. One of the limitations of the electric car is thrust, and the team thinks their research could lead to a solution to this difficult problem.

"Our technology may lead to a storage material with a high density," says Adler-Abramovich. "This is important when you need to generate a lot of energy in a short period of time. It could also be incorporated into today's lithium batteries," she adds.

Windex a thing of the past?

Coated with the new material, the sealed outer windows of skyscrapers may never need to be washed again — the TAU lab's material can repel rainwater, as well as the dust and dirt it carries. The efficiency of solar energy panels could be improved as well, as a rain shower would pull away any dust that might have accumulated on the panels. It means saving money on maintenance and cleaning, which is especially a problem in dusty deserts, where most solar farms are installed today.

The lab has already been approached to develop its coating technology commercially. And Prof. Gazit has a contract with drug mega-developer Merck to continue his work on short peptides for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease — as he had originally foreseen.


A Lightning Strike in Africa Helps Take the Pulse of the Sun
11/11/2009

Sunspots, which rotate around the sun's surface, tell us a great deal about our own planet. Scientists rely on them, for instance, to measure the sun's rotation or to prepare long-range forecasts of the Earth's health.

But there are some years, like this one, where it's not possible to see sunspots clearly. When we're at this "solar minimum," very few, if any, sunspots are visible from Earth. That poses a problem for scientists in a new scientific field called "Space Weather," which studies the interaction between the sun and the Earth's environment.

Thanks to a serendipitous discovery by Tel Aviv University's Prof. Colin Price, head of TAU's Department of Geophysics and Planetary Science, and his graduate student Yuval Reuveni, science now has a more definitive and reliable tool for measuring the sun's rotation when sunspots aren't visible — and even when they are. The research, published in the Journal of Geophysical ResearchSpace Physics, could have important implications for understanding the interactions between the sun and the Earth. Best of all, it's based on observations of common, garden-variety lightning strikes here on Earth.

Waxing and waning, every 27 days

Using Very Low Frequency (VLF) wire antennas that resemble clotheslines, Prof. Price and his team monitored distant lightning strikes from a field station in Israel's Negev Desert. Observing lightning signals from Africa, they noticed a strange phenomenon in the lightning strike data — a phenomenon that slowly appeared and disappeared every 27 days, the length of a single full rotation of the sun.

"Even though Africa is thousands of miles from Israel, lightning signals there bounce off the Earth's ionosphere — the envelope surrounding the Earth — as they move from Africa to Israel," Prof. Price explains. "We noticed that this bouncing was modulated by the sun, changing throughout its 27-day cycle. The variability of the lightning activity occurring in sync with the sun's rotation suggested that the sun somehow regulates the lightning pattern."

He describes it as akin to hearing music or voices from across a lake: depending on the humidity, temperature and wind, sometimes they're crystal clear and sometimes they're inaudible. He discovered a similar anomaly in the lightning data due to the changes in the Earth's ionosphere — signals waxed and waned on a 27-day cycle. Prof. Price was able to show that this variability in the data was not due to changes in the lightning activity itself, but to changes in the Earth's ionosphere, suspiciously in tandem with the sun's rotation.

Taking the pulse of the sun

The discovery describes a phenomenon not clearly understood by scientists. Prof. Price, an acclaimed climate change scientist, believes it may help scientists formulate new questions about the sun's effect on our climate. "This is such a basic parameter and not much is known about it," says Prof. Price. "We know that Earth rotates once every 24 hours, and the moon once every 27.3 days. But we haven't been able to precisely measure the rotation rate of the sun, which is a ball of gas rather than a solid object; 27 days is only an approximation. Our findings provide a more accurate way of knowing the real rotation rate, and how it changes over time," he says.

Prof. Price cannot yet say how this finding will impact life on Earth. "It's an interesting field to explore," he says, "because nothing has been done to investigate the links between changing weather patterns and the rotation of the sun.

"Short-term changes in solar activity can also impact satellite performance, navigational accuracy, the health of astronauts, and even electrical power grid failures here on Earth. Many scientists claim that the sun's variability is linked to changes in climate and weather patterns, so the small changes we observed every 27 days could also be related to small variations in weather patterns.

"Our data may help researchers examine short-term connections between weather, climate, and sun cycles. With this tool, we now have a good system for measuring the pulse of the sun."


Protecting Your Virtual Privacy
11/3/2009

The details of your personal life, such as grocery purchases and pizza topping preferences, are collected every day — online and by club and discount cards from the gym, department store and supermarket. Though this data seems innocent enough, when it's put together it can tell a whole lot about your health, finances and behavior. That information, a Tel Aviv University researcher reminds us, could eventually be used against you.

Dr. Michael Birnhack of TAU's Faculty of Law and Prof. Niva Elkin-Koren from the University of Haifa recently completed a comprehensive study on information privacy laws in Israel and found compelling reasons for lawmakers everywhere to take notice. "Our research from Israel can serve as a case study of the shortcomings of a comprehensive data protection program," says Dr. Birnhack.

"It's not just sites like Facebook and Twitter that should cause concern," he continues. "It's all the trivial things that are collected about us that we're not protected against."

Your digital dossier

The process can be seductive: information collected by websites has benefits, too. Based on previous purchase and search queries, Amazon can recommend books for readers "just like you." But in the wrong hands, similar information collected by Web sites and discount card companies could be used by health insurance organizations to boost premiums or by employers trying to figure out how many sick days you'll be taking each year. It could even make or break your chances of landing that new job, Dr. Birnhack says.

A health insurance provider doesn't need to see your medical records to understand the state of your family's health. It can learn just as much by looking at your grocery bill. "If you use a discount card at a supermarket, information on your purchases is added to a database. If you shop for halal or kosher products, your religion can be inferred, and the purchases of fatty or gluten-free foods can provide an indicator of your family's overall health."

Federal legislation in the U.S. regulates for some 15 different kinds of specific data sets, such as health data and credit histories, but not for information collected by club and discount cards or by commercial Web sites. And it's more difficult to write a law to secure confidentiality in those areas, says Dr. Birnhack.

"Unless there are specific laws in place, this personal digital information is up for grabs. It can be bought and sold between governments and private companies, which can then conduct data mining and analysis on it and sell the results to third parties," he explains.

Like Europe, Canada has a universal informational privacy policy, but U.S. data collection and dissemination regulation is more limited. Justice system lawyers are currently debating the issue of informational privacy, and Dr. Birnhack suggests that they look to Canada's law as a good way to protect privacy. "Canada has the best data protection regime in the world," he says. "It's very powerful."

Reading the fine print

In conducting their research, Birnhack and Elkin-Koren examined close to 1,400 Israeli websites and their privacy statements and attempted to discern whether or not the sites complied with the law. They then reported their findings reported on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) website in a paper available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1456968.

Even though Israeli law requires them to do so, a significant number of sites don't state that they are collecting this information, while a majority of popular commercial sites reserve the right to change their privacy policies at any time. This means that data is up for grabs.

"Legislators should be aware of how easy it is to collect personal information about citizens to start building more protective laws," Dr. Birnhack concludes.


Enormous Dividends from Thinking Small
10/22/2009

No one field of study has ever "owned" science, but the extent of today's multi-disciplinary collaboration would astonish yesterday's researchers.

Consider nanobiotechnology — nano-bio — the exciting hybrid exploring science's newest frontier.  At Tel Aviv University's pioneering Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, medicine, environmental science, and microelectronics are already being transformed — and that's just the beginning.

Drawing on the physical, chemical, biological and medical sciences and combining them with state-of-the-art engineering, nano-bio works within a scale barely visible through an electron microscope — one-thousandth the width of a human hair.  Probing single molecules atom by atom, Tel Aviv University researchers are engineering structures and materials to dramatically improve modern necessities —  from drugs to solar panels to super computers.

Delivering drugs by submarine

Dr. Danny Peer is already bringing science fiction's Fantastic Voyage to life.  He’s creating a medical "submarine" shrunk small enough to enter faulty cells in the body and repair them.  The blueprints for his nano-sized mechanism, developed using tools from medicine and biochemistry, were published earlier this year in Science, along with a map of its proposed maiden voyage.

Despite its size, the mini-sub is big enough to deliver a powerful payload — drugs to torpedo faulty proteins and kill cancer.  His team is now creating the submarine that will be tested in the human body, and a therapeutic version could be ready in as few as three years.

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8465

Foiling bioterrorism

Bridging physics, electronics and biology, Prof. Yosi Shacham-Diamand's pioneering work is advancing the concept of a lab-on-a-chip — a micro-sized laboratory as small as a quarter-inch square, complete with a microscopic "workbench."

Pairing physical electronics with biotechnology, his lab-on-a-chip can detect pollutants in water — in real time.  More wizardry: The lab employs genetically engineered bacteria that light up when presented with a stressor. As a tool for monitoring water quality, it represents a great leap forward in keeping our water supply safe from pollution and bioterrorist threats.

As a platform, however, the lab-on-a-chip can be used for potentially unlimited functions, such as investigating stem cell therapies or treating and diagnosing cancer.

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8731

Biological A.I.

Nano-bio is crossing disciplines to lay the foundation for "real" artificial intelligence, connecting computers with lab-created neurons to mimic the flexibility and adaptability of the human brain.

Tel Aviv University's Prof. Eshel Ben Jacob is using that connection to find treatments for neurological disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease.  Combining physics with biology and medicine, he imprints patterns on a network of live neurons — the process by which the human brain creates memories.  Then that network is linked to software that reads neural activity, so it can work together with a computer to carry out tasks computers are currently incapable of performing.

It's science fiction made fact — and a crucial step in creating a viable process to repair the human brain.

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5703

Combating cancer

Nano-bio pharmaceutical advances are equally impressive.  A new compound developed by Tel Aviv University's Prof. Yoel Kloog has just been shown to double life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients.  It's already passed Phase II clinical trials and could be available in as little as two years.

But the lessons learned from that research also promise a weapon to attack a wide range of mankind's most prevalent diseases — including lung, colon, and breast cancer — all of which are a focus of TAU research.

And surprisingly, pre-clinical findings also show promise for a related compound to alleviate childhood diabetes, suggesting an easy-to-swallow pill may soon replace painful daily injections.

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=10105

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=10171

Senses and sensitivity

The better our biological, environmental, and medical monitoring devices, the safer we are.  Ground-breaking research by TAU biochemist and nanotechnologist Prof. Ehud Gazit has multiplied the possibilities by an order of magnitude.

By "playing with molecules" — organizing millions of nano-tubes into nano-wires the size of a pinhead — he's created a sophisticated new sensing mechanism with unique mechanical and chemical properties.  Much more sensitive than anything currently available, it has broad practical applications in ultra-sensitive biosensors and as new energy-storage devices.

Combining chemistry, physics and biology, Prof. Gazit has also identified the nano-elements that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, found a way to stop its advance, and is currently creating a drug to combat the illness.

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5663

The big idea behind small science

The far-reaching implications of nano-bio are generating enormous excitement among the world's scientists, and more benefits of cross-disciplinary symbiosis are revealed every day.

Tel Aviv University is leading the way — taking large steps in a world measured by a millionth of a millimeter.


Virtual Maps for the Blind
9/10/2009

The blind and visually impaired often rely on others to provide cues and information on navigating through their environments. The problem with this method is that it doesn't give them the tools to venture out on their own, says Dr. Orly Lahav of Tel Aviv University's School of Education and Porter School for Environmental Studies.

To give navigational "sight" to the blind, Dr. Lahav has invented a new software tool to help the blind navigate through unfamiliar places. It is connected to an existing joystick, a 3-D haptic device, that interfaces with the user through the sense of touch. People can feel tension beneath their fingertips as a physical sensation through the joystick as they navigate around a virtual environment which they cannot see, only feel: the joystick stiffens when the user meets a virtual wall or barrier. The software can also be programmed to emit sounds — a cappuccino machine firing up in a virtual café, or phones ringing when the explorer walks by a reception desk.

Exploring 3D virtual worlds based on maps of real-world environments, the blind are able to "feel out" streets, sidewalks and hallways with the joystick as they move the cursor like a white cane on the computer screen that they will never see. Before going out alone, the new solution gives them the control, confidence and ability to explore new streets making unknown spaces familiar. It allows people who can't see to make mental maps in their mind.

Dr. Lahav's software takes physical information from our world and digitizes it for transfer to a computer, with which the user interacts using a mechanical device. Her hope is that the blind will be able to explore the virtual environment of a new neighborhood in the comfort of their homes before venturing out into the real world.

A touchy-feely virtual white stick

"This tool lets the blind 'touch' and 'hear' virtual objects and deepens their sense of space, distance and perspective," says Dr. Lahav. "They can 'feel' intersections, buildings, paths, and obstacles with the joystick, and even navigate inside a shopping mall or a museum like the Louvre in a virtual environment before they go out to explore on their own."

The tool transmits textures to the fingers and can distinguish among surfaces like tiled floors, asphalt, sidewalks and grass. In theory, any unknown space, indoors or out, can be virtually pre-explored, says Dr. Lahav. The territory just needs to be mapped first — and with existing applications like GIS (geography information system), the information is already there.

A new road to independence

The tool, called the BlindAid, was recently unveiled at the "Virtual Rehabilitation 2009 International Conference," where Dr. Lahav demonstrated case studies of people using the tool at the Carroll Center for the Blind, a rehabilitation center in Newton, Massachusetts. There, a partially blind woman first explored the virtual environment of the center — as well as the campus and 10 other sites, including a four-story building. After just three or four sessions, the woman was able to effectively navigate and explore real-world target sites wearing a blindfold.

The virtual system becomes a computerized "white cane" for the blind, says Dr. Lahav. "They get feedback from the device that lets them build a cognitive map, which they later apply in the real world. It's like a high-tech walking cane," she says. "Our tool lets people 'see' their environment in advance so they can walk in it for real at a later time."

Today the blind and visually impaired are very limited in their movements, which necessarily influences their quality of life. This solution could help them find new options, like closer routes from train or bus stations to the safety of home. "Ultimately, it helps the blind determine their own paths and gives them the ability to take control of their lives," says Dr. Lahav, who first began this research at Tel Aviv University, under Prof. David Mioduser, where she now works. She then further developed it with her MIT colleagues Dr. Mandayam Srinivasan and Dr. David W. Schloerb.


TAU Lays Foundation for World's Smallest Laser
9/3/2009

The world's tiniest laser, called the "Spaser," was recently built by scientists from Purdue, Norfolk State and Cornell universities. But the groundwork was laid in 2003 by physicists David Bergman at Tel Aviv University and Mark Stockman at Georgia State University.

The Spaser is being heralded as a stepping-stone to technologies of the future, with applications in fields such as medicine and defense. "This work represents an important milestone that may prove to be the start of a revolution in nanophotonics, at a scale that is much smaller than the wavelength of visible light," said Prof. Timothy Sands, director of the Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue.

To read more about how Tel Aviv University led the way to this light-speed transformation of modern technology, read the whole story from United Press International:

http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2009/08/24/Scientists-create-worlds-tiniest-laser/UPI-73781251135493/


Open Source DNA
8/31/2009

In the chilling science fiction movie Gattaca, Ethan Hawke stars as a man with "inferior genes" who assumes another's genetic identity to escape a dead-end future. The 1997 film illustrates the very real fear swirling around today's genome research — fear that private genetic information could be used negatively against us.

Last year, after a published paper found serious security holes in the way DNA data is made publicly available, health institutes in the United States and across the world removed all genetic data from public access.

"Unfortunately, that knee-jerk response stymied potential breakthrough genetic research," says Dr. Eran Halperin of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences and Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology. He wants to put this valuable DNA information back in circulation, and has developed the tool to do it — safely.

Working with colleagues at the University of California in Berkeley, Dr. Halperin devised a mathematical formula that can be used to protect genetic privacy while giving researchers much of the raw data they need to do pioneering medical research. Reported in this month's issue of Nature Genetics, the tool could keep millions of research dollars-worth of DNA information available to scientists.

New security to restart genetic research

"We've developed a mathematical formula and a software solution that ensures that malicious eyes will have a very low chance to identify individuals in any study," says Dr. Halperin, who is also affiliated with the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley.

The mathematical formula that Dr. Halperin's team devised can determine which SNPs — or small pieces of DNA — that differ from individual to individual in the human population — are accessible to the public without revealing information about the participation of any individual in the study. Using computer software that implements the formula, the National Institutes of Health and similar institutes around the world can distribute important research data, but keep individual identities private.

"We've been able to determine how much of the DNA information one can reveal without compromising a person's identity," says Dr. Halperin. "This means the substantial effort invested in collecting this data will not have been in vain."

Why is this information so important? Genome association studies can find links in our genetic code for conditions like autism and predispositions for cancer. Armed with this information, individuals can avoid environmental influences that might bring on disease, and scientists can develop new gene-based diagnosis and treatment tools.

A new track for government policymakers

Examining SNP positions in our genetic code, Dr. Halperin and his colleagues demonstrated the statistical improbabilities of identifying individuals even when their complete genetic sequence is known. "We showed that even when SNPs across the entire genome are collected from several thousand people, using our solution the ability to detect the presence of any given individual is extremely limited," he says.

Dr. Halperin hopes his research will reverse the NIH policy, and he will provide access to the software so that researchers can use it to decide which genetic information can be safely loaded into a public database. He also hopes it will quell raging debates about DNA usage and privacy issues.

The Tel Aviv University-Berkeley research was done while Dr. Halperin was working with the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI), a non-profit research institute with close relations to the University of California (UC) and Tel Aviv University. Other coauthors of the study include Sriram Sankararaman, and Prof. Michael Jordan from UC, and Dr. Guillaume Obozinski from Willow, a joint research team between INRIA Rocquencourt, École Normale Supérieure de Paris and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

Flying by the Skin of Our Teeth
8/19/2009

It's been a mystery: how can our teeth withstand such an enormous amount of pressure, over many years, when tooth enamel is only about as strong as glass? A new study by Prof. Herzl Chai of Tel Aviv University's School of Mechanical Engineering and his colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and George Washington University gives the answer.

The researchers applied varying degrees of mechanical pressure to hundreds of extracted teeth, and studied what occurred on the surface and deep inside them. The study, published in the May 5, 2009, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, shows that it is the highly-sophisticated structure of our teeth that keeps them in one piece — and that structure holds promising clues for aerospace engineers as they build the aircraft and space vehicles of the future.

"Teeth are made from an extremely sophisticated composite material which reacts in an extraordinary way under pressure," says Prof. Chai. "Teeth exhibit graded mechanical properties and a cathedral-like geometry, and over time they develop a network of micro-cracks which help diffuse stress. This, and the tooth's built-in ability to heal the micro-cracks over time, prevents it from fracturing into large pieces when we eat hard food, like nuts."

News the aviation industry can bite into

The automotive and aviation industries already use sophisticated materials to prevent break-up on impact. For example, airplane bodies are made from composite materials — layers of glass or carbon fibers — held together by a brittle matrix.

In teeth, though, fibers aren't arranged in a grid, but are "wavy" in structure. There are hierarchies of fibers and matrices arranged in several layers, unlike the single-thickness layers used in aircrafts. Under mechanical pressure, this architecture presents no clear path for the  release of stress. Therefore, "tufts" — built-in micro cracks — absorb pressure in unison to prevent splits and major fractures. As Prof. Chai puts it, tooth fractures "have a hard time deciding which way to go," making the tooth more resistant to cracking apart. Harnessing this property could lead to a new generation of much stronger composites for planes.

Prof. Chai, himself an aerospace engineer, suggests that if engineers can incorporate tooth enamel's wavy hierarchy, micro-cracking mechanism, and capacity to heal, lighter and stronger aircraft and space vehicles can be developed. And while creating a self-healing airplane is far in the future, this significant research on the composite structure of teeth can already begin to inspire aerospace engineers — and, of course, dentists.

Creating a super-smile

Dental specialists looking for new ways to engineer that picture-perfect Hollywood smile can use Dr. Chai's basic research to help invent stronger crowns, better able to withstand oral wear-and-tear. "They can create smart materials that mimic the properties found in real teeth," he says.

In natural teeth, there may not be any way to speed up the self-healing ability of tooth enamel, which the Tel Aviv University research found is accomplished by a glue-like substance that fills in micro-cracks over time. But fluoride treatments and healthy brushing habits can help to fill in the tiny cracks and keep teeth strong.


Hearing the Words Beneath the Noise
8/5/2009

Hearing aids and cochlear implants act as tiny amplifiers so the deaf and hard-of-hearing can make sense of voices and music. Unfortunately, these devices also amplify background sound, so they're less effective in a noisy environment like a busy workplace or café.

But help is on the way. Prof. Miriam Furst-Yust of Tel Aviv University's School of Electrical Engineering has developed a new software application named "Clearcall" for cochlear implants and hearing aids which improves speech recognition for the hard-of-hearing by up to 50%.

"Hearing-impaired people have a real problem understanding speech," says Prof. Furst-Yust.

"Their devices may be useful in a quiet room, but once the background noise levels ramp up, the devices become less useful. Our algorithm helps filter out irrelevant noise so they can better understand the voices of their friends and family."

Based on a cochlear model that she devised, the new patented technology is now being developed to improve the capabilities of existing cochlear implants and digital hearing aids. Adding Clearcall to current technology is quite straightforward, says Prof. Furst-Yust, and requires only add-on software for existing devices.

Better hearing through math

"We've developed a mathematical model of the ear that shows how speech recognition works. The math is complicated, but basically we're cleaning auditory information before it goes to the brain. We get rid of some of the information — the background noise — so that the hearing-impaired have an easier time 'filling in' missing information that their ears can't give them," explains Prof. Furst-Yust.

The software was originally developed for use in cell phones, but Clearcall introduced distortions that people with healthy hearing found distracting. That's when Prof. Furst-Yust started applying the methodology to hearing aids.

"It takes some getting used to," she notes, "but people who have been wearing hearing aids all their lives have no problem getting the most from Clearcall. And we can train the newly hearing impaired in a quick introductory session."

A rap on sound pollution

Clearcall works with the brain's own sound recognition faculties to help the hearing aid wearer filter out background noise. To a person with normal hearing, a Clearcall-filtered voice will sound distorted, the same way it's hard for some people to recognize voices and words over the telephone. And even to the newly hearing impaired, Clearcall will sound different. But with continued use, the software improves the clarity of voices from 30 to 50%. Prof. Furst-Yust is currently preparing the results of her study for publication. It is based on people with only 20% of their hearing intact.

Available for licensing through Tel Aviv University's commercialization company, Ramot, the software could become part of an existing implant or device in a matter of months once the right strategic partner is found.

Prof. Furst-Yust continues to refine her algorithm for future applications and foresees the invention of an ultimate device for filtering out the things normal hearers don't want to hear, like the boombox next to us on the subway. She believes it will be easier to target music than voices, since our brains are trained to already listen to music differently.


A "Super Sensor" for Cancer and CSI's
8/3/2009

Like the sensitive seismographs that can pick up tremors of impending earthquakes long before they strike, a similar invention from Tel Aviv University researchers may change the face of molecular biology.

Coupling biological materials with an electrode-based device, Prof. Judith Rishpon of TAU's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology is able to quickly and precisely detect pathogens and pollution in the environment — and infinitesimally small amounts of disease biomarkers in our blood. About the size of a stick of gum, the new invention may be applied to a wide range of environments and situations. The aim is for the device to be disposable and cost about $1.

"Biosensors are important for the bio-terror industry, but are also critical for detecting pathogens in water, for the food industry, and in medical diagnostics," says Prof. Rishpon. Her latest research appeared in the journals Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology Biology and Medicine, Electroanalysis and Bioelectrochemistry.

Portable and precise

What makes this particular invention particularly appealing is its small size and the fact that it can be easily connected to a handheld device like a Blackberry or iPhone for quick and reliable results. An electrical signal will pulse "yes" for the presence of a test molecule and a "no" for its absence.

Currently, clinical researchers are testing its application in cancer diagnostics, focusing on the detection of proteins associated with colon and brain cancer and efficacy of anticancer drugs. But the device is capable of detecting various types of substances. "It really depends on what you put at the end of the electrode," says Prof. Rishpon.

"You can put enzymes, antibodies or bacteria on my electrodes to sense the existence of a chemical target. Then we can measure the amount of the target, assessing its potency by using additional enzymes or by looking at the changes of the electrochemical properties on the device," she says.

An early warning system for heart attacks

Enzymes released before the onset of a heart attack can also be detected, so this application has obvious uses in an operating room to give a physician warning of an impending attack during a procedure. It could be fitted into an implant like a pacemaker or another future device to alert the user to impending dangers, thus preventing sudden death.

Prof. Rishpon is also investigating the application of her technology to detect for pathogens in drinking water such as estrogen, a byproduct of the female birth control pill. The presence of these chemicals in America's drinking water is no minor health concern. And before tackling the problem, water officials need to know what they are up against. Prof. Rishpon's solution could be part of the future toolkit, she believes.

A bio-watchdog for the organic food industry

Detecting pesticides in food is another very desirable application. The organic food market is calling for more rigorous testing and regulations to ensure spraying doesn't occur on some farms, and that limits are not breached on others.

Commercial applications of Prof. Rishpon's basic research are already underway in many areas of diagnostics, but clearly there are more to come. "My super sensors are cheap, accurate and highly sensitive, and in principle they could detect and measure the presence of almost every biological-based material," Dr. Rishpon concludes. She is also collaborating on the device with scientists at Arizona State University.


A Police Woman Fights Quantum Hacking and Cracking
7/30/2009

The first desktop computers changed the way we managed data forever. Three decades after their introduction, we rely on them to manage our time, social life and finances — and to keep this information safe from prying eyes and online predators.

So far, so good, despite an occasional breach. But our security and our data could be compromised overnight when the first quantum computer is built, says Dr. Julia Kempe of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Science. These new computers, still in the theoretical stage, will be many times more powerful than the computers that protect our data now.

Laying the groundwork to keep governments, companies and individuals safe, Dr. Kempe is working to understand the power of quantum computers by designing algorithms that fit them. At the same time, she is figuring out the limits of quantum computers, something especially important so we can build safety systems against quantum hackers.

"If a very rich person worked secretly to fund the building of a quantum computer, there is no reason in principle that it couldn't be used for malevolent power within the next decade," she says. "Governments, large corporations, entrepreneurs and common everyday people will have no ability to protect themselves. So we have to plan ahead."

What quanta can't do

"If we know what quantum computers will not be able to do, we can find 'windows' of protection for data," says Dr. Kempe, who is working on future programs that could keep data in quantum computers safe. Dr. Kempe recently published papers in Computational Complexity, the SIAM Journal on Computing and Communications in Mathematical Physics.

Quantum mechanics allows a computer built on these principles, a so-called quantum computer, to perform tasks that are currently thought impossible to do efficiently on a normal computer, such as breaking current encryption standards.

Adding it all up

Although the most powerful quantum computer today barely has the computational capacity of a 4-bit calculator, it's just a matter of time until they are as powerful as physicists and mathematicians suspect they can be, Dr. Kempe says.

Today's computer operates by manipulating 0s and 1s — that is, a piece of data can be in one state or the other, but cannot be in both states simultaneously. In quantum computing, however, photons can be in the states 0 and 1 at the same time. This will give people and institutions phenomenally more computing power, but at the same time leave their data held in binary computers vulnerable to attack.

"Today if you use a credit card it's encrypted. No matter who intercepts the data it would take forever to decode the numbers — even if all the computers we have today were wired together for the job," Dr. Kempe explains. A quantum computer, however, could crack the code quickly and efficiently.

"My basic research helps us better plan for the future when quantum computing is a reality," says Dr. Kempe, one of 23 new handpicked faculty recruits to Tel Aviv University.


Zooming In to Catch the Bad Guys
6/30/2009

It's a frequent scene in television crime dramas: Clever police technicians zoom in on a security camera video to read a license plate or capture the face of a hold-up artist. But in real life, enhancing this low-quality video to focus in on important clues hasn't been an easy task. Until now.

Prof. Leonid Yaroslavsky of Tel Aviv University and his colleagues have developed a new video "perfection tool" to help investigators enhance raw video images and identify suspects. Commissioned by a defense-related company to improve what the naked eye cannot see, the tool can be used with live video or with recordings, in color or black-and-white.

"This enhancement of resolution can be a critical factor in locating terrorists or identifying criminal suspects," says Prof. Yaroslavsky. His team's findings were recently published in Optical Letters and the Journal of Real Time Image Processing.

Seeing using computational imaging

The new invention enhances the resolution of raw video images from security cameras, military binoculars, and standard personal-use video cameras, improving the quality at which the images were originally recorded or transmitted. This can mean the difference between "seeing" trees blowing in the wind and finding a terrorist hiding in those trees.

"Our video perfection tool works to improve visual quality and achieving a higher resolution of the video image," says Prof. Yaroslavsky. Once a commercial partner is found, the device can be integrated into existing technology within a matter of months, he says.

Digitally calming the "turbulent atmosphere"

A major challenge in video analysis is that images of objects become distorted over long distances due to variations in the air that can affect our sight and the "sight" of a camera. In the language of optical science, this is known as a "turbulent atmosphere." A critical image of a person or object can become unstable and almost impossible to identify with any amount of accuracy.

The TAU team exploited the fact that most parts of a video scene remain still. While there are moving objects such as people, animals or vehicles, a major part of the video — the background — does not move at all. Using specially designed algorithms, the team built a software application that lets cameras and video analysis equipment stabilize images, allowing objects that are really moving to be distinguished from chaotic atmospheric changes.

The technology will increase the odds of identifying suspects in court, says Prof. Yaroslavsky, but its civilian applications are equally significant. Instead of sending large video files over the Internet, smaller and lower-resolution files could be sent, to be enhanced at their destination points. This could save bandwidth and time.

"It's quite a new approach to video perfection," says Prof. Yaroslavsky. "A lot of work has been done in this field, so it's very gratifying to find a new and original application."


Can a New Implant Coating Technique Create a New Six Million Dollar Man?
6/29/2009

Tel Aviv University researcher Prof. Noam Eliaz of the TAU School of Mechanical Engineering has developed an electrochemical process for coating metal implants which vastly improves their functionality, longevity and integration into the body.

The new process could vastly improve the lives of people who have undergone complicated total joint replacement surgeries so they can better walk, run and ultimately avoid rejection of the implant by their bodies.

"The surface chemistry, structure and morphology of our new coatings resemble biological material," explains Prof. Eliaz. "We've been able to enhance the integration of the coating with the mineralized tissue of the body, allowing more peoples' bodies to accept implants." His new coating resulted in a 33% decrease in the level of materials failure, or delamination, in these implants.

Prof. Eliaz presented his findings to the 215th meeting of the Electrochemical Society in San Francisco in May 2009. In addition, a new 12-week implantation study, recently published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, favorably compared the performance of the Tel Aviv University coatings to those of current commercial coatings.

Giving your joints an electrochemical bath

Today's surgeons can reconstruct joints in the human body using metal structures implanted to take the place of the natural joint. In order to better integrate the new addition to the adjacent bone, implants are often coated with synthetic hydroxyapatite, which is similar to the main inorganic constituent of enamel, dentin and vertebrate bone. The properties of this coating are crucial to the function and life of the implant in the body.

Prof. Eliaz's advance is in the application technique of the coatings rather than the elements used in the coatings themselves. Instead of the traditional plasma-spraying technique, he and his team from the Tel Aviv University Materials and Nanotechnologies Program have developed a way to electrochemically deposit synthetic hydroxyapatite. In place of plasma-spraying the coating onto the metal, the metal implant is placed into a bath of electrolyte solution and an electric current is applied.

According to Prof. Eliaz, a good coating is crucial to the stable fixation of the implant in the surrounding bone. Since human bones naturally contain apatite, covering the implant with a synthetic version allows the body to register the implant as similar to a real bone. This ensures integration and fixation of the implant, and also prevents poisonous materials from leaking from the metal of the implant into the blood stream.

Could spur new bone growth

Prof. Eliaz has discovered that his method of coating circumvents the disadvantages of plasma- spraying. The electrochemical process allows synthetic hydroxyapatite to more closely mimic the real material. Examined under a microscope, it is virtually indistinguishable from the body's own material — which helps the body accept a new implant.

The next-generation coating will include nano-particles to reinforce the coating. It will also have the potential to incorporate biological material or drugs during the process itself.

"We can incorporate biological materials" because the electrochemical process works at lower temperatures, says Prof. Eliaz. "The reinforcement of nanoparticles will improve the mechanical properties and may also improve the biological response. Drug incorporation may reduce the risk of post-surgery infection and even catalyze the growth of the bone."


Intruder Alert: TAU's "Smart Dew" Will Find You!
3/26/2009

A remarkable new invention from Tel Aviv University — a network of tiny sensors as small as dewdrops called "Smart Dew" — will foil even the most determined intruder. Scattered outdoors on rocks, fence posts and doorways, or indoors on the floor of a bank, the dewdrops are a completely new and cost-effective system for safeguarding and securing wide swathes of property.

Prof. Yoram Shapira and his Tel Aviv University Faculty of Engineering team drew upon the space-age science of motes to develop the new security tool. Dozens, hundreds and even thousands of these Smart Dew sensors — each equipped with a controller and RF transmitter/receiver — can also be wirelessly networked to detect the difference between man, animal, car and truck.

"We've created a generic system that has no scale limitations," says Prof. Shapira. This makes it especially useful for large farms or even the borders of nations where it's difficult, and sometimes impractical, to install fences or constantly patrol them.

"Most people could never afford the manpower to guard such large properties," explains Prof. Shapira. "Instead, we've created this Smart Dew to do the work. It's invisible to an intruder, and can provide an alarm that someone has entered the premises."

"The cheapest and smartest solution on the market"

Each individual "dew droplet" can detect an intrusion within a parameter of 50 meters (about 165 feet). And at a cost of 25 cents per "droplet," Prof. Shapira says that his solution is the cheapest and the smartest on the market.

A part of the appeal of Smart Dew is its near-invisibility, Prof. Shapira says. "Smart Dew is a covert monitoring system. Because the sensors in the Smart Dew wireless network are so small, you would need bionic vision to notice them. There would be so many tiny droplets over the monitored area that it would be impossible to find each and every one."

Electronic ears, noses, skin and eyes

Unlike conventional alarm systems, each droplet of Smart Dew can be programmed to monitor a different condition. Sounds could be picked up by a miniature microphone. The metal used in the construction of cars and tractors could be detected by a magnetic sensor. Smart Dew droplets could also be programmed to detect temperature changes, carbon monoxide emissions, vibrations or light.

Each droplet sends a radio signal to a "base station" that collects and analyzes the data. Like the signals sent out by cordless phones, RF is a safe, low-power solution, making Prof. Shapira's technology extremely cost-effective compared to other concepts.

"It doesn't require much imagination to envision the possibilities for this technology to be used," says Prof. Shapira. "They are really endless."


Putting Nanoparticles Together
3/11/2009

Biologically-engineered nanoparticles — very small objects less than 2500 nanometers (0.0000984 inches) in size — are the next great advance in medical and environmental science.

But experimental nanoparticles, due to their novelty, pose potentially serious physiological and ecological risks. While the precise impact of nanoparticles on the human body is still being researched, animal studies have suggested they may increase the risk of cancer. Other fears are that such nanomachines, if uncontrolled, could start making unwanted changes. Instead of curing diseases, nanomachines and nanoparticles might backfire, damaging already healthy cells.

Now scientists seeking information about these risks will have somewhere to turn. Tel Aviv University researchers are spearheading a new European Union project to develop a sophisticated database of scientific publications related to nanoparticle toxicity. It will also be housed at Tel Aviv University.

Prof. Oded Maimon from Tel Aviv University's Department of Industrial Engineering is the project coordinator. He will be joined by project manager Abel Browarnik, also of the Department of Industrial Engineering, and Prof. Rafi Korenstein from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine. They will be working with researchers from other European institutions.

The big risks of small particles

The objective of the project is to create and maintain an automated database that will retrieve, index and extract results from scientific publications that are related to the health and environmental impact of nanoparticles. The information will be stored at a central repository and made available to research scientists, regulatory bodies, NGOs and the general public.

Because of their extremely small sizes, nanoparticles can enter the body more easily and in different ways than larger particles. How they behave in relation to human tissues and the effects of accumulated nanoparticles are the areas currently under investigation.

The database project was inaugurated in January at a scientific conference hosted by Tel Aviv University's Department of Industrial Engineering and will last for four years. It will be funded by a 1.5 million Euro grant from the European Union, as part of the Seventh Framework Program for Research and Technological Development.

 


Fighting Tomorrow's Hackers
2/5/2009

One of the themes of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is the need to keep vital and sensitive information secure. Today, we take it for granted that most of our information is safe because it's encrypted. Every time we use a credit card, transfer money from our checking accounts -- or even chat on a cell phone -- our personal information is protected by a cryptographic system.

But the development of quantum computers threatens to shatter the security of current cryptographic systems used by businesses and banks around the world.

“We need to develop a new encryption system now, before our current systems -- such as RSA -- becomes instantly obsolete with the advent of the first quantum computer,” says Prof. Oded Regev at Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science.  To accomplish that, Prof. Regev has proposed the first safe and efficient system believed to be secure against the massive computational power of quantum computers and backed by a mathematical proof of security.

Secure for centuries

Prof. Regev stresses it is imperative that a new cryptographic system be developed and implemented as soon as possible.  One reason is that current information, encrypted with RSA, could be retroactively hacked in the future, once quantum computers are available.  That means that bank and other financial information, medical records, and even digital signatures could instantly become visible.

“You don’t want this information to remain secure for just 5 or 10 years until quantum computers are built,” says Prof. Regev.  “You want it to be safe for the next century.  We need to develop alternatives to RSA now, before it’s too late.”

A new cryptographic system

Cryptographic systems are used to transmit secure information such as bank and online transactions, and typically rely on the assumption that the factoring problem is difficult to solve.  As a simplified example, if the number 3088433 were transmitted, an eavesdropper wouldn’t be able to tell that the number is derived from the factors 1583 and 1951.  “Quantum computers can ‘magically’ break all of these factoring-based cryptographic systems, something that would take billions of years for current computers to accomplish,” Prof. Regev explains.

The current gold standard in encryption is the universally used RSA cryptosystem, which will be instantly broken once quantum computers are a reality -- an event predicted to happen as early as the next decade.  To replace RSA in this new reality, Prof. Regev combined ideas from quantum computation with the research of other leaders in the field to create a system that is efficient enough to be practical for real-world applications.

Prof. Regev’s work was first announced in the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing and will appear in the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery.  His work has now become the foundation for several other cryptographic systems developed by researchers from Stanford Research Institute, Stanford University, and MIT.  Its potential real-world applications are extensive, ranging from banking transactions to eBay and other online auctions to digital signatures that can remain secure for centuries.


Spotting the Next Great Music Superstar
12/8/2008

For every rock star who hits it big, there are thousands of artists who never make it out of their own back yards. Before Madonna was “Madonna,” she was a local success in New York clubs.  Until Britney Spears became a global pop superstar, she performed in dance revues in her native Louisiana.

But how can you tell who will make it onto the Billboard charts and who will never get beyond  the local bar circuit? Professor Yuval Shavitt, of Tel Aviv University’s School of Electrical Engineering, has developed software that can accurately predict the next big music phenomenon. His software could become a profitable tool for music producers and record labels ― and a boon to young people who want to be in the know.

Using data collected from Gnutella, the most popular peer-to-peer file-sharing network in the United States, Prof. Shavitt has developed a computer algorithm that can spot an emerging artist several weeks or months before national success hits. “Until now, talent scouts for record companies used instinct to predict the next rock personality. Our software has an astonishing success rate ― about 30%, and in some cases up to 50%. We’ve crossed a new frontier in the record business,” he says.

Measuring the “temperature” of new artists

Soulja Boy (“Crank That”) and Sean Kingston (“Temperature”) were both flagged by Prof. Shavitt’s system in April 2007, weeks before they emerged into the national spotlight ― both songs became Billboard hits when they entered the charts in June of that year. And the group Shop Boyz skyrocketed to popularity in their home city of Atlanta in just two weeks. Their “Party Like a Rockstar” became a hit single, and Shop Boyz was catapulted to national fame. But not before the band popped up on Tel Aviv University’s algorithm “radar” a few weeks before they signed with Universal.

To develop the algorithm, Prof. Shavitt, with graduate students Tomer Tankel and Noam Koenigstein, examined a large amount of data from Gnutella user queries for unknown artists over a 9-month period during 2007.  By examining the first 6 months’ worth of data, and then using the remaining 3 months’ data to track the increasing popularity of those artists, they developed a system to predict which artists would break out of their local markets.

The three most important words: location, location, location

“The key was understanding the role of geography in the rising popularity of these artists,” says Prof. Shavitt. As part of the largest study ever done on geographically-tied searches, Tel Aviv University researchers examined the thirty to forty million queries that are entered each day on Gnutella.  They realized that those artists who eventually made it to the national level first had a huge number of user queries in their local region, even when they had zero queries from elsewhere in the United States.

The numbers for new artists started small, often with 5, then 20, then 150 queries within the artist’s home city each week, sometimes localized even to a specific urban neighborhood.  At first glance, these numbers seem insignificant, Prof. Shavitt explains, but exponential growth in search queries sent from a geographical region proved a reliable predictor of a future breakout artist.

Striking a chord with business

There are many business applications for Prof. Shavitt’s algorithm. For a record company, having a system that produces early recommendations for new signings, half of which will become successful musicians, would be a powerful tool. This same software can be applied to television programs, video clips, and other entertainment products, including home videos on sites like YouTube.

To continue collecting data for future study, Prof. Shavitt has started his own collection network on Direct Connect, which gets about a million hits a day. Koenigstein, his student, is hoping to expand the scope of the algorithm predictions to look at individual songs by well-established artists. “Will a Madonna song sell because it’s a hit, or just because it’s sung by Madonna?” he asks. “That’s what we’re looking at now.”


The Beauty Machine
11/6/2008

Our mothers told us that true beauty is more than skin deep — but researchers from Tel Aviv University are now challenging Mom.

They’ve built a beauty machine that, with the press of a button, turns a picture of your own ordinary face into that of a cover model. While its output is currently limited to digitized images, the software may be able to guide plastic surgeons, aid magazine cover editors, and even become a feature incorporated into all digital cameras.

"Beauty, contrary to what most people think, is not simply in the eye of the beholder," says lead researcher Prof. Daniel Cohen-Or of the Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences at Tel Aviv University. With the aid of computers, attractiveness can be objectified and boiled down to a function of mathematical distances or ratios, he says. This function is the basis for his beauty machine.

In the eyes of a majority of beholders

The research has attracted interest and controversy. Beauty is, after all, a quality that has captivated artists since time immemorial, and its definition has eluded even the world’s greatest philosophers. Prof. Cohen-Or sees things more scientifically.

“Beauty can be quantified by mathematical measurements and ratios. It can be defined as average distances between features, which a majority of people agree are the most beautiful,” says Prof. Cohen-Or. “I don't claim to know much about beauty. For us, every picture in this research project is just a collection of numbers."

In his study, published recently in the proceedings of Siggraph, an annual computer graphics conference, Prof. Cohen-Or and his graduate student Tommer Leyvand  together with two colleagues  surveyed 68 Israeli and German men and women, aged 25 to 40, asking them to rank the beauty of 93 different men’s and women’s faces on a scale of 1 to 7. These scores were then entered into a database and correlated to 250 different measurements and facial features, such as ratios of the nose, chin and distance from ears to eyes.  From this, the scientists created an algorithm that applies desirable elements of attractiveness to a fresh image.

True to the real you

Unlike heavily processed Photoshop images that can make magazine cover models and celebrities unrecognizable, Tel Aviv University’s “beautification engine” is much more subtle. Observers say that the final image it produces retains an unmistakable similarity to the original picture.

Well — in most cases. There is one circumstance where Prof. Cohen-Or’s beauty machine doesn’t work like a charm: when a celebrity’s face is changed.

“We’ve run the faces of people like Brigitte Bardot and Woody Allen through the machine and most people are very unhappy with the results,” he admits. “But in unfamiliar faces, most would agree the output is better.” Prof. Cohen-Or now plans on developing the beauty machine further -- to add the third dimension of depth.


Seeing Through the Skin
9/11/2008

Feeling blue? According to Prof. Leonid Yaroslavsky from Tel Aviv University, the saying may be more than just a metaphor.

Prof. Yaroslavsky believes that humans may have an ability to “see” colors and shapes with their skin. His optic-less imaging model is presented in a chapter of a new book, Advances in Information Optics and Photonics, and could lead to a new form of optical imaging technology that beats the limitations of today’s lens-based imaging devices. His model may also explain how this controversial primordial instinct, which is observable in some plants and animals, might have evolved over millions of years.

Extra-ocular sight for the blind

“Some people have claimed that they possess the ability to see with their skin,” says Prof. Yaroslavsky. Though biologists usually dismiss the possibility, there is probably a reasonable scientific explanation for “skin vision.” Once understood, he believes, skin vision could lead to new therapies for helping the blind regain sight and even read.

Skin vision is not uncommon in nature. Plants orient themselves to light, and some animals -- such as pit vipers, who use infrared vision, and reptiles, who possess skin sensors -- can “see” without the use of eyes. Skin vision in humans is likely a natural atavistic ability involving light-sensitive cells in our skin connected to neuro-machinery in the body and in the brain, explains Prof. Yaroslavsky.

An interdisciplinary motivation

An engineer and scientist, Prof. Yaroslavsky is motivated by science and the design of new smart imaging devices, in which optics are replaced by computers. He is currently developing imaging simulation theories using computer software, theories which may lead to future devices with practical applications. Such devices, he says, would have distinct advantages over conventional optics-based imaging. Applications could include special sensors for detecting radiation at sea and in airports to detect terrorist threats, new night-vision devices, or near-weightless mechanisms to steer spaceships to stars beyond our own galaxy.

Traditional imaging lenses only work within a limited range of electromagnetic radiation. They are still very costly, limited by weight and field of view. Requiring no lenses, optics-less imaging devices could be adapted to any kind of radiation and any wavelength, says Prof. Yaroslavsky. They could essentially work with a “bionic” 360-degree field of view and their imaging capability determined by computer power rather than the laws of light diffraction.

Before real-world applications can be developed, however, Prof. Yaroslavsky hopes to convince biologists to take a leap of faith and delve deeper into the mechanisms of optics-less vision. Their input could propel imaging research to the next level, he believes.


Putting a "Korset" on the Spread of Computer Viruses
9/9/2008

Anti-virus companies play a losing game. Casting their nets wide, they catch common, malicious viruses and worms (known to the industry as “malware”), but it may take days before their software updates can prepare your computer for the next attack. By then it could be too late. And some insidious programs prove immune to anti-virus software, residing inside your computer for months or even years, collecting personal information and business secrets.

But Prof. Avishai Wool and his graduate student Ohad Ben-Cohen of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Engineering are taking a different approach. They recently unveiled a unique new program called the “Korset” to stop malware on Linux, the operating system used by the majority of web and email servers worldwide. Prof. Wool’s technology puts a new spin on Internet security, and once it reaches its full potential it could put anti-virus software companies out of business. The research was presented at the Black Hat Internet security conference in Las Vegas this summer.

Stopping the virus before it starts

Prof. Wool and Ben-Cohen have built an open-source software solution for servers that run on Linux. “We modified the kernel in the system’s operating system so that it monitors and tracks the behavior of the programs installed on it,” says Prof. Wool. Essentially, he says, they have built a model that predicts how software running on a server should work.

If the kernel senses abnormal activity, it stops the program from working before malicious actions occur. “When we see a deviation, we know for sure there’s something bad going on,” Prof. Wool explains.

Prof. Wool also cites the problems with costly anti-virus protection. “Our methods are much more efficient and don’t chew up the computer’s resources,” he says. He adds that his motive is to make the Internet a safer place, not to open a new company to compete with current anti-virus software manufacturers.

Generally speaking, says Prof. Wool, anti-virus companies catch viruses “in the wild” and then send them to isolated computer labs for study. The companies then determine the unique patterns or “signatures” the malware creates. It is this signature that is sent as an anti-virus update to anti-virus subscribers. The problem is that updates take too much time to perfect and then distribute, leaving a wide window of opportunity for computer villains to attack.

“There is an ongoing battle between computer security experts and the phenomenal growth of viruses and network worms flooding the Internet,” he continues. “The fundamental problem with viruses remains unsolved and is getting worse every day.”

The expert’s tips on secure habits

Even if end-users do everything they can to protect their computers by using anti-virus programs and firewalls, there will always be a period when your computer is vulnerable to attack, says Prof. Wool.

How to stay protected?  Never click on links purporting to be from PayPal, your bank or credit card company, he warns. “Most legitimate companies like banks never ask their clients to click on links in an email,” he says. “Be suspicious if a company asks you to do this -- access your account through bookmarks you’ve set up, or directly through the company’s homepage.”

Securing new frontiers

Prof. Wool has built a number of useful technologies applicable to both today’s and tomorrow’s networked world. With his graduate student Danny Nebenzahl, he created a “vaccine” that can protect specific software programs like Microsoft’s Outlook against unseen attacks. The basic research published in 2006 is now making its way into mainstream products.

Prof. Wool is also collaborating with Prof. Jacob Scheuer, investigating the use of fiber optics and lasers to strengthen cryptographic tools used in banking and Internet security.


A Digital Haven for Terrorists on Our Own Shores?
5/5/2008

If you use one of America's top Internet service providers, you may share server space with an organization that enables worldwide terrorism, says a new study by Tel Aviv University.

A workshop on terrorist organizations and the Internet was organized for the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) by the Netvision Institute for Internet Studies (NIIS) and the Interdisciplinary Center for Technology Analysis & Forecasting, both of Tel Aviv University. Berlin's Institute for Cooperation Management and Interdisciplinary Research (NEXUS), affiliated with the Technical University of Berlin, also participated in the workshop.

The findings were presented in Berlin to a closed audience of high-ranking representatives from NATO in February 2008.

Organizing and recruiting online

Enlisted by NATO officials to study the web activity of terrorist organizations, researchers found that some of the world's most dangerous organizations are operating on American turf. Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad, and al-Qaeda all have websites hosted by popular American Internet service providers -- the same companies that most of us use every day.

"These websites hosted in America are targeting Muslim mothers in America, Canada, the U.K. and all over the world, convincing them that being 'Shahid' or a suicide bomber is particularly good and very important for their sons," says Prof. Niv Ahituv of the NIIS.

Available in English, Arabic, Spanish and other languages, the websites also provide tutorials on bomb building and enlist impressionable American and British Muslim women and men into a life of terror activity.

Free-speech for terrorists

Prof. Ahituv acknowledges the dilemma that America’s First Amendment creates -- free-speech protections may foster propaganda directed towards the U.S. "America's First Amendment protects these websites from being shut down," he says, recognizing the irony of waging a war on terror when some of the most dangerous propaganda is being created at home.

According to the study, the Islamic Jihad operates 15 websites in Arabic and English, hosted by both U.S. and Canadian companies. Hamas operates 20 websites in eight languages, a portion of which are based in the U.S and Canada, while Hezbollah operates 20 websites, also hosted by companies in the U.S. and Canada.

Limited successes and American law

The FBI has shut down a few websites, but American law prevents the closure of most, says Prof. Ahituv. Terrorists could coordinate a 9/11-scale attack via these websites, he warns. There are, however, some people who believe that leaving those websites intact is desired in order to monitor content, trends and policy. It is hard to tell which side is right, adds Prof. Ahituv.

An issue of great concern is that terrorist organizations are using the Internet to bypass the role of the established press, he notes. "Since those organizations do not possess TV stations, radio stations and printed press outlets, they use the Internet to impart their views and events to the public and to the media."

For more information, see the Netvision Institute for Internet Studies, http://www.niis.tau.ac.il/.


NASDAQ-Traded Internet Security Company Partners with TAU
4/18/2008

In a bid to make online information safer and more secure, NASDAQ-traded Check Point has joined forces with Tel Aviv University. A joint research center to be based at the Department of Computer Sciences at TAU is expected to lead to next-generation information technology research and applications. It will be headed by a researcher from IBM and MIT.

Read the full story in Globes Online here.


TAU Scientists Teach a Computer to Recognize Attractiveness in Women
4/4/2008

“Beauty,” goes the old saying, “is in the eye of the beholder.” But does the beholder have to be human?

Not necessarily, say scientists at Tel Aviv University. Amit Kagian, an M.Sc. graduate from the TAU School of Computer Sciences, has successfully “taught” a computer how to interpret attractiveness in women. Kagian published the findings in the scientific journal Vision Research. Co-authors on the work were Kagian’s supervisors Prof. Eytan Ruppin and Prof. Gideon Dror. The study combined the worlds of computer programming and psychology, an example of the multidisciplinary research for which TAU is world-renowned.

But there’s a more serious dimension to this issue that reaches beyond mere vanity. The discovery is a step towards developing artificial intelligence in computers. Other applications for the software could be in plastic and reconstructive surgery and computer visualization programs such as face recognition technologies.

From mathematics to aesthetics

"Until now, computers have been taught how to identify basic facial characteristics, such as the difference between a woman and a man, and even to detect facial expressions," says Kagian.

“But our software lets a computer make an aesthetic judgment. Linked to sentiments and abstract thought processes, humans can make a judgment, but they usually don't understand how they arrived at their conclusions.”

In the first step of the study, 30 men and women were presented with 100 different faces of Caucasian women, roughly of the same age, and were asked to judge the beauty of each face. The subjects rated the images on a scale of 1 through 7 and did not explain why they chose certain scores. Kagian and his colleagues then went to the computer and processed and mapped the geometric shape of facial features mathematically.

Additional features such as face symmetry, smoothness of the skin and hair color were fed into the analysis as well. Based on human preferences, the machine "learned" the relation between facial features and attractiveness scores and was then put to the test on a fresh set of faces.

Says Kagian, "The computer produced impressive results  its rankings were very similar to the rankings people gave." This is considered a remarkable achievement, believes Kagian, because it’s as though the computer “learned” implicitly how to interpret beauty through processing previous data it had received.

Beauty is golden

The notion that beauty can be boiled down to binary data and interpreted by a mathematical model is nothing new. More than 2,000 years ago the Greek mystic, philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras observed the connection between math, geometry and beauty. He reasoned that features of physical objects corresponding to the “golden ratio” were considered most attractive.

“I know that Plato connected the good to the beautiful,” says Kagian. “Personally, I believe that some kind of universal correctness to beauty exists in nature, an aesthetic interpretation of the universal truth. But because each of us is trapped with our own human biases and personalized viewpoints, this may detract us from finding the ultimate formula to a complete understanding of beauty.”

Kagian, who studied under the Adi Lautman multidisciplinary program for outstanding students at Tel Aviv University, says that a possible next step is to teach computers how to recognize “beauty” in men. This may be more difficult. Psychological research has shown that there is less agreement as to what defines “male beauty” among human subjects. And his own portrait, jokes Kagian, will not be part of the experiment.

“I would probably blow up the machine,” he says.


Mind the (Online) Gap
2/4/2008

Instant messaging, blogs, Facebook, MySpace -- there are limitless ways your child communicates online with the offline world. And the risks and opportunities are only increasing.

A new Tel Aviv University research study has found that, despite what parents might believe, there is an enormous gap between what they think their children are doing online and what is really happening.

In her study, Prof. Dafna from the Department of Communication at Tel Aviv University surveyed parents and their children about the children’s activities on the Internet. “The data tell us that parents don’t know what their kids are doing,” says Prof. Lemish.

Her study was unique in that parents and children from the same family were surveyed.

Strange encounters

In one part of the study, Prof. Lemish surveyed over 500 Jewish and Arab children from a variety of ages and socio-economic backgrounds, asking them if they gave out personal information online. Seventy-three percent said that they do. The parents of the same children believed that only 4 percent of their children did so.

The same children were also asked if they had been exposed to pornography while surfing, or if they had made face-to-face contact with strangers that they had met online. Thirty-six percent from the high school group admitted to meeting with a stranger they had met online. Nearly 40% of these children admitted to speaking with strangers regularly (within the past week).

Fewer than 9 percent of the parents knew that their children had been meeting with strangers, engaging in what could be viewed as very risky behavior. Prof. Lemish suspects that this gap is wider in the U.S., where children from middle-class backgrounds have more opportunity to surf online privately.

Erasing their tracks

In another part of the study, Prof. Lemish found that 30 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 18 delete the search history from their browsers in an attempt to protect their privacy from their parents. She suggests that common filtering software may not be effective, since children will access what they are looking for elsewhere -- at a friend’s house, an Internet café, or school. And if the child accesses dangerous material outside of the home, they will be unprepared and uninformed when it happens, she says.

Prof. Lemish believes that one problem is that parents are not as media-literate as they could be. They don’t have a handle on using popular online software and chat programs, and tend to have no clue about what is really happening online.

But she cautions, “This lack of knowledge on the parents’ part may be no different than the situation before the advent of the Web. Parents don't know what their children are doing on the Net, in the same manner that they don't know what goes on at class, parties, or clubs.”

Avoiding dangers

Prof. Lemish advises that parents should give their children the tools to be literate Internet users, and to navigate around any potential dangers. Most importantly, parents need to talk to their children. “The child needs similar tools that teach them to be weary of dangers in the park, the mall or wherever. The same rules in the real world apply online as well.

“For example, under no circumstances, should a child ever give strangers their private information over the Internet, or meet unsupervised with strangers. Children should be encouraged to tell their parents about Internet encounters that make them uncomfortable. It’s just common sense and parents need to teach them that. Talking with your children regularly is important.”

At the same time, she stresses, parents should not disregard the advantages of the Internet: “We tend to forget that it offers our children a source of independence, a way to explore the world, and helps them meet friends whom they could not meet in their real world. As parents, we need to help them explore the positive opportunities the Internet offers them, and to reduce the risks."

Prof. Lemish is the editor of the Journal of Children and Media. She has recently presented this research to a network of European researchers on Internet and children, sponsored by the EU.

For more information about Prof. Lemish, please see http://spirit.tau.ac.il/comm/dafna/.


Fate Might Not Be So Unpredictable After All, Tel Aviv University Study Suggests
12/3/2007

Why does it take so long for soul mates to find each other? How does disease spread through a person’s body? When will the next computer virus attack your hard-drive?

A new theory published last month in Nature on the statistical concept of “First Passage Time,” or FPT, may provide the key to answering at least a few of these questions, says theory co-author Prof. Joseph Klafter from Tel Aviv University’s School of Chemistry. And the answers may lead to breakthroughs in medicine, mathematics, the environment, and elsewhere.

Prof. Klafter and his colleagues from the University of Pierre & Marie Curie in Paris (where he has been visiting professor) are the first to have developed an analytical model that calculates the average arrival time  the mean FPT  of a randomly-moving object in a complex environment.

Understanding how randomly-moving objects arrive at a certain destination is no secret to scientists today. But no theory, until now, could predict the time it would take for an object to move between given addresses in a complex environment, like through the human body or the World Wide Web. Previous models only explained the passage of time when the event occurred in a homogenous environment, like in a vacuum or in a glass of water.

And in some instances, such as the movement of cancer cells in the human body, time is of the essence. The concept can best be understood by the question: How long will it take for a random walker to reach a certain destination?

Scientists from different backgrounds have studied and researched the predictability of FPT for decades. “Our new theory is exciting because it can be applied to a wide range of concepts in nature and mathematics,” explains Prof. Klafter, the Heinemann Chair of Physical Chemistry at Tel Aviv University. “It can be used by biologists, by ecologists, and even help computer scientists predict when the next big virus will hit their computer.”

When Prof. Klafter and his colleagues published their theory in Nature on November 1, they sparked interest from around the world especially among biophysicists, who are looking for models to understand how long it takes for molecules to arrive at certain points in biological cells.

And although it will take months, maybe even years, for real-life experiments to prove the validity of this new theory, Prof. Klafter is looking forward to the results.

“I’ve received responses from researchers who are interested in using this model to analyze enzymes in cells,” says Prof. Klafter. “Enzymes are important for controlling functions in the body.  If a biologist can estimate the FPT of a certain enzyme (at the place where this molecule reacts), then perhaps one could interfere with or manipulate the system to help prevent a disease or make a bodily function more efficient.”

He adds, “This theory can be applied to anything that moves randomly. It can be used for predicting when an enzyme will reach a target cell, how long a hungry animal will forage for food when food when is scarce or even how viruses spread through the Internet.”

Prof. Klafter earned his Ph.D. at Tel Aviv University and completed post-doctoral work at MIT. Prior to joining the faculty at Tel Aviv University, he worked for Exxon. Prof. Klafter is the recipient of numerous awards and currently holds the position of chairman for the Academic Board at the Israel Science Foundation.


Tel Aviv University Chemist Discovers How Molecules "Take the Heat"
10/10/2007

How things heat up or cool off is not only important for romance or in the kitchen, but for most everyday aspects of life -- especially in machines we use such as cars, computers and air conditioners. Heating and heat transport is now a hot issue in nanotechnology, a new branch of science that promises to make tiny machines small enough to enter our bloodstream for fixing arteries or for delivering a drug right where it is needed.

Thanks to research from Tel Aviv University, engineers today have a better understanding of how heat transport works at the molecular scale. According to theoretical chemist Prof. Abraham Nitzan, from the school of chemistry, what happens is not what most scientists would expect. Rather than a diffusive transfer of heat, molecules experience a ballistic "heatwave" that rips through them at just about the speed of sound. Heat transfer at a larger scale -- such as in forest fires or when cooking a pot roast -- is thankfully much slower.

"Heat transport is definitely different at the molecular level," says Prof. Nitzan. "It moves as a wave and not by diffusion like a drop of ink in a glass of water. On the other hand, heat energy may localize and accumulate in some molecular structures. This must be considered by researchers who want to use molecules for building tiny-sized electronic devices."

Prof. Nitzan’s research is most applicable in the field known as molecular electronics. Scientists, including several teams from Tel Aviv University, aim to use molecules instead of conventional transistors in order to build electronic devices that are smaller, faster and more efficient. But issues of heating must be considered for devices to be made as stable and efficient as possible.

Says Prof. Nitzan, "It is a dream for scientists to be able to build devices at the nanoscale -- but as we move to smaller scales there are all sorts of issues involved. When you go to the nanoscale, unexpected phenomena become significant and sometimes overbearing."

Prof. Nitzan’s seminal work on molecular heat conduction was done using theoretical research and computer simulations. In 2003, it was published in the Journal of Chemical Physics as a collaborative effort with Dr. Dvira Segal, then a graduate student at Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Peter Hänggi from the University of Augsburg. Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have recently confirmed experimentally some of its main findings. This experiment and a related perspective article by Prof. Nitzan were published in the prestigious journal Science this past August.

Prof. Nitzan was a postdoctoral Fulbright Fellow at MIT and a research associate at the University of Chicago. A fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he taught at Northwestern University before joining Tel Aviv University in 1975.


Tel Aviv University Business Group Meets Texas Secretary of State in Israel
7/1/2007

Members of the Business Club of the Israeli Friends of Tel Aviv University met Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson on his recent visit to Israel.

The meeting explored the possibilities of economic cooperation between the state of Texas and Israeli companies. Wilson also met with members of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce.

Texas, the second largest U.S. state with a population of over 24 million people, launched a $300 million “emerging technologies fund” to attract high-tech companies—especially in the area of homeland security—to expand their businesses to Texas. Secretary Wilson is responsible for the fund.

Some of Israel’s leading high-tech firms were represented at the meeting, such as Delek Energy, NASDAQ-traded Elbit and Magal. Representing Tel Aviv University was Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, vice president for research and development, and other TAU officials.

TAU president Prof. Zvi Galil said, “We were happy to host the secretary of state, and hope that the meeting will help deepen the ties between Texas and Israel in general, and with Tel Aviv University in particular. The fact that the governor of Texas chose Tel Aviv University as a venue for such a meeting speaks volumes about TAU’s international reputation.”

Prof. Messer-Yaron added, “Thanks to our high-quality research and outstanding academic staff, Tel Aviv University serves as focus of synergy between academia and the Israeli business community, especially in high-tech."

Mr. Ofer Molad, president of Performance Systems in Texas, said that "the meeting at TAU is a step toward collaboration between the state of Texas and Israeli academia, industry and government, promoting common goals.”


Tel Aviv University Researcher Finds Internet Is Spherical with a Dense Core
6/25/2007

Mapmaking is a fundamental process for creating order in the world. Humankind is constantly evolving and inventing new methods and applications for maps -- the latest is mapping out the relatively unexplored expanse of cyberspace.

New research conducted by Yuval Shavitt, an engineering researcher at Tel Aviv University (TAU), suggests that the Internet is not shaped like a web at all. A new mathematical model developed by Shavitt and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesthis month, determines that the Internet is globe-shaped, and also like Planet Earth, is built around a dense core.

“What we are doing is exactly like astronomy but at the micro level,” says Shavitt, from the School of Electrical Engineering, The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering at TAU. “I was inspired by astronomers to uncover ‘the dark matter of the Internet’ -- about 10 to 20% of the Internet’s topography never before charted.”

Understanding the structure of the Internet and the way it develops is important for a variety of reasons, says Shavitt: "Knowing its shape can help us track the Internet's evolution in time. We can see what forces in economics and politics drive the Internet, and in knowing this we can plan ahead.” Better understanding of the Internet’s topology, he adds, can also greatly improve applications such as Web surfing, file sharing, and voice and video streaming applications.

Using a software program he built called DIMES, Shavitt organized a community of 5,500 international volunteers who downloaded the program to 12,000 computers at locations from New York to Tokyo. Taking brief measurements of where the PCs connect to “nodes” (internet service providers and large information hubs such as Google), Shavitt determined with his mathematical model that the Internet is spherical-shaped and contains three primary layers.

In the center of the Internet lies a dense nucleus of about 100 information and communication giants such as Google and AT&T; around this nucleus is a “peer-connected” region; while the outermost layer is of sparsely connected nodes.

Shavitt also discovered that the world’s eastern countries are more influential to shaping the Internet’s landscape than what was previously thought. He says, “We are starting to see dominant networks emerging from Hong Kong and Singapore. This is telling us that the Internet is more diverse and less concentrated around the U.S. than it has been in the past.”

Previously, the Internet was mapped from only 20 or 30 different vantage points and was done so with an American bias, explains Shavitt. The idea to take a more global approach was made possible when he discovered online communities with millions of volunteers who donate CPU when their computers are not in use.

Since publishing his research and intentions to map out weekly visualizations of the Internet, Shavitt has sparked interest not only in the scientific community, but also among artists and spiritual seekers.  Admittedly, this project has added a new dimension to his life: “I have had people contact me looking for the connection between the evolution of the Internet and the concept of Zen. While interesting to delve into these questions, I am mostly interested in the forces that drive the Internet.”

For more information and to participate in the mapping project, please visit:

http://www.netdimes.org/.


TAU Develops Device Expected to Save U.S. Truckers $400 Million Annually
6/11/2007

American investors and entrepreneurs are paying close attention to the results of research conducted by Tel Aviv University’s Iby and Aladar Fleishman Faculty of Engineering on improving the aerodynamics of heavy road vehicles, thereby increasing fuel economy by up to ten percent. TAU’s research has developed a device to reduce "truck drag," resulting in increased savings in fuel costs and a environmentally attractive reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

TAU researchers presented the new device to entrepreneurs, investors, and Fortune 500 companies on May 16, 2007, at the “World’s Best Technologies Showcase” in Fort Worth, Tex. TAU Prof. Avraham Seifert and his co-researchers unveiled an actuator which, when attached to the periphery of the rear end of a truck or its trailer, reduces drag through the combined action of suction and the pulsed blowing of airflow. At an expected end-user cost of only a few thousand dollars per unit, the device can be expected to pay for itself rapidly through cost savings for fuel.

“We were approached by a group of American angel investors at the conference and we have subsequently met with them in Israel,” says Larry Loev, Director, Business Development for Engineering and Physical Sciences, Ramot at Tel Aviv University Ltd. “We are at the beginning of the negotiation stage and if all goes according to plan, a prototype could be ready by as early as next year.”

The work of Prof. Seifert and his colleagues could have additional practical applications in other scientific fields. Prof. Ehud Heyman, dean of TAU’s Faculty of Engineering, commented that, along with ongoing research projects commissioned by the space agency NASA, “Prof. Seifert’s device not only saves energy, but can extend the range and improve the performance of aircraft and other fluid-related systems as well.”


TAU Professor Will Head Google's R&D Center in Tel Aviv
10/31/2006

Google Inc said on Tuesday it will open a research and development center in Tel Aviv in early 2007 as part its strategy of expanding global R&D operations. The Web search leader said in a statement it seeks to establish partnerships with Israeli institutes and universities.

Israel is considered one of the world's biggest high-tech centers and has large operations belonging to high-tech giants such as Intel, Motorola, Microsoft and IBM . The Tel Aviv office will be headed by Yossi Matias, a scientist and expert on algorithms, databases and Internet technologies.

Matias is on leave from his faculty position at Tel Aviv University and was previously a research scientist at Bell Laboratories.

Tel Aviv University is Israel's leading center of higher learning and the largest Jewish university in the world. TAU celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.


A Formula for Beauty: Tel Aviv University Computer Scientists
9/28/2006

"Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder- it’s all mathematical," says Professor Daniel Or-Cohen of Tel Aviv University (TAU), who has developed a software program that can automatically beautify a face without human intervention. Until now, improving on photographs of people’s faces depended on the discretion and taste of the person doing the digital retouching.

After three years of research, Or-Cohen unveiled a computer-automated “Beauty Formula” together with graduate student Tommer Leyvand at TAU’s School of Computer Science, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences. The formula is based on a computer algorithm that translates peoples’ ideas on beauty and aesthetic preferences into numerical values and applies them to any digitized headshot. The output is a digitally-enhanced and more attractive version of a face than the original.

Volunteers surveyed agreed that, when left to its own devices, the Beauty Formula made people look better most (79 percent) of the time. “It’s like digital plastic surgery,” says Or-Cohen, who plans on commercializing the software in the future. He and Leyvand expect that one day the Beauty Formula will find its way into digital cameras and will be as ubiquitous and as easy to use as the red-eye function found in cameras.

In the project, initiated by Leyvand, researchers took pictures of people decidedly attractive and unnattractive and asked a diversified group of volunteers to rate their level of attractiveness on a 7-point scale. They found that contrary to current literature there is a consensus on who is beautiful across gender, age and cultural groups.

Leyvand and Or-Cohen then measured distances and ratios between features of faces rated as highly attractive. They calculated 250 facial feature points, among them facial width, eye and mouth levels,and thickness of eyebrows and lips.

Among the set of images were celebrities such as Angelina Jolie (who was rated highly attractive at 6.8) but also unknowns of different ages and ethniticies. From this the “Beauty Formula” was derived.

Subsequently, raw images were fed to the computer and enhanced, according to the parameters of the Beauty Formula. The computer made small but meaningful adjustments to the distances between facial features and suddenly pictures of people considered average in looks were transformed into knockouts.

“When we beautify a face, it can have a huge effect on how the face is perceived,” says Or-Cohen. “But we don’t want to overdo it. We want to remain loyal to the original.”

The output of the enhancements was presented to volunteers from Israel and Austria. “Kids, even infants, were more attracted to the beautified faces,” noted Or-Cohen. “What is interesting is that beauty is data-driven; it is not in the eyes of the beholder.”

Although he is surprised by the findings, Or-Cohen isn’t quick to offer any explanation for them.

“I don’t know much about beauty and I don’t pretend that I do,” he says. “The nice thing about this project is discovering that aspects of beauty can be reduced to functions and ratios, and that human input for deciding what is attractive is no longer necessary or the most accurate.”

The researchers admit that while some people may be wary of facial alterations that go beyond the smoothing of a wrinkle or erasure of a mole, there is a great demand for a such a beautifying tool on dating sites and in the magazine and advertising industries. The software could be applied to beautifying models with a press of a button, and could reduce industry pressure for finding the “perfect” face. It may one day eliminate the need for real models too, says Or-Cohen.

Closer to our everyday lives, Or-Cohen and Leyvand expect the program will be a hit on dating sites, where people can upload slightly more attractive versions of themselves. Since the Beauty Formula produces a close version of the original without the “plasticky” effect of current photo enhancement software, it should appeal to the average person, believes Or-Cohen.

And strange as it may sound, the “average” is exactly what researchers are aiming for when beautifying a picture. “When it comes to what people consider most attractive,” says Or-Cohen, “The average face is the most beautiful. The program doesn’t distort the face, but finds a balance in harmony with nature.”

This new research area is called computational aesthetics and it focuses on much more than facial good looks. “There is also a color harmony aspect to aesthetics,” says Or-Cohen, who is working on algorithms to enhance the colors in faces, scenery and paintings to make them more harmonious. “We can shift colors ever so slightly so they become exactly what the eye would like to see: either as colors belonging to  the same hue or complete and perfect opposites.”

One of his programs can study the color palette of Monet and Kandinsky and determine color harmonies used by these masters. Or-Cohen believes that such a tool will be helpful for artists or photographers in fashion who need to match a background to products and people.

Credits for work on the Beauty Formula go to a number of people from various departments and institutions including Tommer Leyvand, TAU and Microsoft, USA; Prof. Daniel Or-Cohen, School of Computer Science, TAU; Dr. Gideon Dror, Department of Computer Science, Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo; Prof. Eytan Ruppin, School of Computer Science, TAU; and Prof. Dani Lischinski,School of Computer Science, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

For further information:
Scott Treibitz, Media Relations
Tel Aviv University, American Council
Tel: 703 528 5058
Professor Daniel Or-Cohen, School of Computer Science
972-3-6405368; 972-9-7404933
dcor@tau.ac.il


TAU Cure for Computer Viruses?
12/5/2005

Eran Shir, 31, of Kfar Saba, along with TAU's Dr. Yuval Shavit and Hebrew University professors Sorin Solomon and Jacob Goldenberg, have published their theoretical model - which operates much like a biological virus spreads in nature - in the December 1 on-line edition of the prestigious journal Nature Physics.

The five-page article, full of diagrams and formulas, is called "Distributive immunization of networks against viruses using the 'honey-pot' architecture."

Shir told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that he and his colleagues did not hold any patent protection on the idea, as they did not intend to make any money out of it.

"Our work is theoretical," he said. "We did the simulations and analyses.

We hope it will be open source in the community and have no plans to turn into millionaires from it. We would be happy if somebody would do it for us."

But he predicted that a commercial company that took "three or four well-trained people" could develop an effective antivirus program within a year that could immunize computers around the world against trouble making viruses and contain the cyber-plague that threatens to strangle the Internet.

Shir said antiviral software purchased by almost every computer owner was still based on a mechanism developed in the 1980s when PCs were infected with a "bad" diskette.

"I started on the project in August 2003, after a big power blackout in the US was followed by the Blaster virus, which wiped out many computers around the world," he said. "It angered me. I understood very early that the old antivirus concept is wrong. It tries to protect the individual computer by purging the offending virus from its brain.

"But to identify the virus and then compose a program that can neutralize it takes too long; by that time, the virus has infected the whole network.

So I wanted to protect the network by taking advantage of the connectiveness of the Internet.

"The need to respond to cyber-attacks in real time has spurred efforts to create artificial immune systems that could autonomously identify viruses and develop immunizing agents. In such schemes, the vaccine would spread to other computers in the same epidemic fashion as the virus, but it would reach most computers too late - later than the virus.

"Our solution involves the installation of a special program as a 'sentinel at the gate' to quickly receive messages on new viruses, and when it arrives, the sentinel will know in real time not to allow it in,"Shir said"

Using network theory - a branch of statistical physics - the authors show that the design of a computer network can be slightly modified to have just a handful of extra connections open only to the vaccine. This is enough to enable the vaccine to outrun the virus and spread to other computers.

"I was not the first to suggest sending viruses in a decentralized way,"

Shir said. "There were people at IBM, but they thought it was not practical because the virus always has a head start and the antivirus can't keep up.

"But we succeeded in showing it can be practical if one makes small changes in an on-line network. This can be done by allowing immunity to pass through links where the antivirus program cannot go, such as SMS, instant messaging, peer-to-peer networks or secure e-mail networks with encryption. As a result, with even a small number of secure links, the antivirus can jump behind the enemy lines and stop the virus. It can happen within seconds," Shir said.

He said the antivirus could protect not only Microsoft Windows, which is the most widely used operating system (despite its having the most security holes), but also Macintosh and Linux operating systems.

Shir spends most of his time on mapping the routing infrastructure of the Internet with the help of thousands of volunteers in more than 80 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and other Arab countries.

Via the Web site: www.netdimes.org, whose work is funded by the European Community, individuals donate brainpower from their personal computers at home or the office, when they are not in use, to make measurements to map out the Internet's infrastructure.

Tel Aviv University’s leading center of higher learning and the largest Jewish university in the world. It will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2006.


Computer Program Learns Language Rules and Composes Sentences Without Outside Help
11/3/2005

Cornell University and Tel Aviv University researchers have developed a method for enabling a computer program to scan text in any of a number of languages, including English and Chinese, and autonomously and without previous information infer the underlying rules of grammar. These rules can then be used to generate new and meaningful sentences. The method also works for such data as sheet music or protein sequences.

The development -- which has a patent pending -- has implications for speech recognition and for other applications in natural language engineering, as well as for genomics and proteomics. It also offers new insights into language acquisition and psycholinguistics.

"The algorithm -- the computational method -- for language learning and processing that we have developed can take a body of text, abstract from it a collection of recurring patterns or rules and then generate new material," explained Shimon Edelman, a computer scientist who is a professor of psychology at Cornell and co-author of a new paper, "Unsupervised Learning of Natural Languages," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, Vol. 102, No. 33).

"This is the first time an unsupervised algorithm is shown capable of learning complex syntax, generating grammatical new sentences and proving useful in other fields that call for structure discovery from raw data, such as bioinformatics," he said.

Unlike previous attempts at developing computer algorithms for language learning, the new method, called Automatic Distillation of Structure (ADIOS), successfully identifies complex patterns in raw texts. The algorithm discovers the patterns by repeatedly aligning sentences and looking for overlapping parts.

For example, the sentences "I would like to book a first-class flight to Chicago," "I want to book a first-class flight to Boston" and "Book a first-class flight for me," please may give rise to the pattern "book a first-class flight" -- if this candidate pattern passes the novel statistical significance test that is the core of the algorithm.

If the system also encounters the sentences "I need to book a direct flight from New York to Tel Aviv" and "I would like to book an economy flight," it may infer that the phrases "first-class," "direct" and "economy" are equivalent in the context of the new pattern. "Because such equivalence sets can contain other patterns -- in turn containing further patterns, and so on -- the resulting body of knowledge grows recursively, as a sort of forest of branching trees of possibilities," said Edelman.

He added, "ADIOS relies on a statistical method for pattern extraction and on structured generalization -- two processes that have been implicated in language acquisition. Our experiments show that it can acquire intricate structures from raw data, including transcripts of parents' speech directed at 2- or 3-year-olds. This may eventually help researchers understand how children, who learn language in a similar item-by-item fashion and with very little supervision, eventually master the full complexities of their native tongue."

In addition to child-directed language, the algorithm has been tested on the full text of the Bible in several languages, on artificial context-free languages with thousands of rules and on musical notation. It also has been applied to biological data, such as nucleotide base pairs and amino acid sequences. In analyzing proteins, for example, the algorithm was able to extract from amino acid sequences patterns that were highly correlated with the functional properties of the proteins.

The new method was developed jointly with David Horn and Eytan Ruppin, professors of physics and computer science, respectively, at Tel Aviv University, and with Zach Solan, a doctoral student there and the lead author on the paper. Their collaboration with Edelman was supported in part by the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation.

The rules can then be used to generate new and meaningful sentences. The method also works for such data as sheet music or protein sequences.

The development -- which has a patent pending -- has implications for speech recognition and for other applications in natural language engineering, as well as for genomics and proteomics. It also offers new insights into language acquisition and psycholinguistics.

"The algorithm -- the computational method -- for language learning and processing that we have developed can take a body of text, abstract from it a collection of recurring patterns or rules and then generate new material," explained Shimon Edelman, a computer scientist who is a professor of psychology at Cornell and co-author of a new paper, "Unsupervised Learning of Natural Languages," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, Vol. 102, No. 33).

"This is the first time an unsupervised algorithm is shown capable of learning complex syntax, generating grammatical new sentences and proving useful in other fields that call for structure discovery from raw data, such as bioinformatics," he said.

Unlike previous attempts at developing computer algorithms for language learning, the new method, called Automatic Distillation of Structure (ADIOS), successfully identifies complex patterns in raw texts. The algorithm discovers the patterns by repeatedly aligning sentences and looking for overlapping parts.

For example, the sentences I would like to book a first-class flight to Chicago, I want to book a first-class flight to Boston and Book a first-class flight for me, please may give rise to the pattern book a first-class flight -- if this candidate pattern passes the novel statistical significance test that is the core of the algorithm.

If the system also encounters the sentences I need to book a direct flight from New York to Tel Aviv andI would like to book an economy flight , it may infer that the phrases first-class, direct and economy are equivalent in the context of the new pattern. "Because such equivalence sets can contain other patterns -- in turn containing further patterns, and so on -- the resulting body of knowledge grows recursively, as a sort of forest of branching trees of possibilities," said Edelman.

He added, "ADIOS relies on a statistical method for pattern extraction and on structured generalization -- two processes that have been implicated in language acquisition. Our experiments show that it can acquire intricate structures from raw data, including transcripts of parents' speech directed at 2- or 3-year-olds. This may eventually help researchers understand how children, who learn language in a similar item-by-item fashion and with very little supervision, eventually master the full complexities of their native tongue."

In addition to child-directed language, the algorithm has been tested on the full text of the Bible in several languages, on artificial context-free languages with thousands of rules and on musical notation. It also has been applied to biological data, such as nucleotide base pairs and amino acid sequences. In analyzing proteins, for example, the algorithm was able to extract from amino acid sequences patterns that were highly correlated with the functional properties of the proteins.

The new method was developed jointly with David Horn and Eytan Ruppin, professors of physics and computer science, respectively, at Tel Aviv University, and with Zach Solan, a doctoral student there and the lead author on the paper. Their collaboration with Edelman was supported in part by the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation.


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