President Shimon Peres Visits BIU

"It is wonderful to see the amazing advancements in nanotechnology and brain research that have taken place at Bar-Ilan University since my last visit.  I'm leaving here even more optimistic than I was before."  Those were the warm parting words of Israel President Shimon Peres, who visited the University's Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center and Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials, in addition to meeting with hundreds of Bar-Ilan students and participating in a question and answer session with them.

Beginning the visit at the Gonda Brain Center, University President Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz told President Peres that "Bar-Ilan University is a microcosm of harmony and mutual respect combined with Jewish heritage" and explained some of the many developments that have taken place at the University over the past few years, including at the School of Medicine in the Galilee, where 500 students are now studying, including 170 who returned from abroad, and which is affiliated with six regional hospitals.  Prof. Hershkowitz said that in his four years as Minister of Science and Technology he enjoyed a special relationship with President Peres and appreciated the emphasis Peres placed on the advancement of science.  

Prof. Moshe Abeles, the founding Director of the Gonda Center said that though Israel has relatively few brain researchers and a low budget compared with the rest of the world, he believes that the Gonda Center has a distinct edge due to its multidisciplinary nature.  "We can’t solve the mysteries of the brain without cooperating with other disciplines,” said Abeles. 

Doctoral students Rani Barbara and Shira Baror fitted Prof. Hershkowitz with an EEG bonnet in order to demonstrate to Peres what can be learned from a person's brain waves. Hershkowitz was asked to relax, open his eyes, close his eyes, visualize his earliest childhood memory, and imagine himself in the year 2024. Projected on a large screen the brain waves formed a pattern that was analyzed by the students.

Later, Peres visited the laboratory of Dr. Eitan Okun, who leads a research team studying the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and ischemic brain stroke, as well as the molecular mechanisms governing learning and memory processes during aging.  

For many years, President Peres has supported the advancement of nanotechnology in general, and at Bar-Ilan University in particular.  During his tour of Bar-Ilan, he had the opportunity to visit the Gonda (Goldschmied) Nanotechnology Triplex for the first time since construction was completed on the building four years ago. Institute Director Prof. Yuval Garini and Vice President for Research Prof. Benjamin Ehrenberg provided a brief description of the interdisciplinary facility.

Dr. Ido Bachelet, a returning scientist from MIT who completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School, discussed the nanorobots he is developing from molecular DNA which can help epileptics, check when diabetics need insulin and how much, and can identify twelve types of cancer and kill cancer cells without affecting healthy cells.  Bachelet has given three demonstrations to the US Food and Drug Administration and is hoping to be able to start clinical tests within a year.  Bachelet also told the President that he brings groups of children from the 8th grade upwards to his lab as part of an initiative to teach them about the meaning of nanotechnology.  

The President's visit concluded with a question and answer session with the participation of hundreds of Bar-Ilan students. 

to a query regarding sharing of the burden of serving in the Israel Defense Forces, he said, "Everyone should serve in accordance with national needs, but not necessarily in the IDF." The IDF itself says that it doesn’t want everyone, he commented, “But everyone has to serve society in some way.”  As far as the ultra-Orthodox are concerned, said Peres, this does not have to mean abandonment of prayer and study.

At the conclusion of the visit Prof. Hershkowitz presented President Peres with a complete volume of the journal Democratic Culture published by the Bar-Ilan Law School.  He also gave him a framed copy of a photo of Peres looking into a microscope during a visit to Bar-Ilan University in 1987.

Shimon Peres received an Honorary Doctorate from Bar-Ilan University in 1986 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.