Rector's Prize for Scientific Innovation for 2021
Awards to 16 researchers for projects in medical imaging, marine biology, Middle Eastern studies, Bible, music, archaeology, law, education and more
Sixteen researchers have been awarded this year’s Rector’s Prize for Scientific Innovation, in recognition of their research achievements in 2021. The ceremony was held on Wednesday, June 23 on the BIU campus. The recipients were selected by two committees headed by the BIU Rector, Prof. Amnon Albeck.
The winners are:
Prof. Nirit Bauminger-Zvieli, of the Churgin School of Education, for intervention research, which examined the efficacy of Preschool Peer Social Intervention (PPSI) in facilitating social engagement of preschoolers with high-functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
Prof. Joshua Berman, of the Zalman Shamir Bible Department, for the Tiberias Stylistic Classifier for the Hebrew Bible, developed with Prof. Moshe Koppel, of the Department of Computer Science. This research tool marshals cutting-edge advances in the field of machine learning and computational linguistics to empower users to easily conduct their own experiments analyzing and classifying the texts of the Hebrew Bible through the measurable features of linguistic data and providing them with verifiable results.
Prof. Jacob Goldberger, of the Kofkin Faculty of Engineering, for deep learning methods for analyzing medical images. Medical imaging is a key tool for clinical diagnosis and treatment, with analysis performed by an expert radiologist. Using deep learning methods for the automation of the diagnostic process requires large image repositories that contain reliable analysis of each image by a specialist, which is not always possible with medical images.
Dr. Yoel Greenberg, of the Department of Music, for his book, “How Sonata Forms” (Oxford University Press), which explores the evolution of sonata form from a systems-theory perspective. Dr. Greenberg examines sonata form as an emergent phenomenon – one whose rise was the result of a process of self-organization. He demonstrates how this form emerges not as a convenient and stable common practice, but rather as a dynamic and inherently problematic construct, the instability of which provides an important creative stimulus to the composers who participated in its historical unfolding.
Prof. Emanuele Dalla Torre, of the Department of Physics, for his pioneering work in the field of quantum computing – a revolutionary technology that uses quantum theory to solve difficult computational problems. Prof. Dalla Torre and his colleagues were able to use quantum computing to prepare a “cluster state” and developed an algorithm for identifying topological features of this state. This research demonstrates that contemporary quantum computers can be used to analyze open-ended problems at the forefront of science. The study was conducted in collaboration with IBM, one of the largest manufacturers of quantum computers. Following the publication of the results, other companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, proposed to Prof. Dalla Torre to use quantum computers in their cloud, in order to develop additional algorithms that allow for the study of complex quantum systems.
Prof. Oren Levy, of the Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, for his research in marine biology, with a special focus on the harmful effects of light pollution on coral reefs during the night. These studies, which include research on the synchronization of the internal biological clock with the external environment, are important in determining environmental ecological policy in the State of Israel today.
Dr. Tova Michalsky, of the Churgin School of Education, for a competitive research grant from the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI-2020) – Emerging Field Group. The grant supports research on integrating emerging technologies into education and training – including a simulation center for incorporating immersive systems (e.g. virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality).
Dr. Joseph (Yossi) Mann, of the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, for a novel study that undertakes to characterize and identify influential Jihadist Islamists on the Internet, using automated and Big Data tools. This research was supported by the Israel National Cyber Center and the Prime Minister’s Office, and was conducted in collaboration with intelligence agencies.
Prof. Miriam Marcowitz-Bitton, of the Faculty of Law, for research on the controversial aspects of intellectual property registration, which has identified hotspots for distributive biases toward women and minority groups. Against this background, the design of intellectual property law was examined, and it was proposed to amend it by creating a route for unregistered rights, examining "blind" applications and reducing the gap between registered and unregistered rights.
Prof. Eli Sloutskin, of the Department of Physics, for the discovery of polyhedral liquid droplets and their process of formation. This discovery unequivocally identifies for the first time the mechanism of shape transitions, previously observed only in oil droplets. The phenomenon, which has been measured in an unusual range of sizes (from a drop including a few hundred molecules to a drop that’s a millimeter in size), is important for basic science and for understanding the formation of viruses and biological cells, and is also making it possible to create polyhedral building blocks on a nano scale, for use in meta-materials.
Dr. Liad Uziel, of the Department of Psychology, was recognized for his research on the experience of spending time alone and on the subject of self-control. His research reveals typical thought processes and the potential for personal growth found in spending time alone, and also identifies personality tendencies associated with the difficulty of being alone and its implications on self-perception and social functioning. On the subject of self-control, he presents theoretical innovations that promote critical thinking, and the desire for greater self-control in improving well-being.
Prof. Nahshon Perez, of the Department of Political Studies, for his study which examined past and current arrangements for governing and managing contested sacred sites. This pioneering study, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Yuval Jobani of Tel Aviv University, has aimed to present a new typology of ways of governing such sites, in order to ensure public order and mutual tolerance.
Dr. Milana Frenkel-Morgenstern, of the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine, for cancer research, which has greatly contributed to the development of a special liquid biopsy technology to predict drug response by chimeric genes. Over the past year her lab has contributed greatly to the study of coronavirus through research on the use of vitamin D against serious illness and COVID-19 infection. Findings from the vitamin D study were published in the media around the world, leading to recommendations in various countries to accept vitamin D as a tool against COVID-19 infection and to reduce morbidity and mortality. Her lab also created an international database of medications used against coronavirus and identified immunodominant epitopes for designing a peptide-based vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.
Prof. Nathan Keller, of the Department of Mathematics, for the development of methods that allow the use of Fourier analysis for solving problems in extremal and probabilistic combinatorics. The new methods have made it possible to solve a number of famous problems, unsolved for decades, including Tomaszewski's Conjecture on Randomly Signed Sums, for which Prof. Keller and his student, Ohad Klein, provided proof.
Dr. Jonathan Rubin, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, for innovative research projects. One project deals with the manuscript tradition of the most influential medieval description of the Holy Land, Descriptio Terre Sancte by Burchard of Mount Sion. The research provides a key to understanding the original version of the work and enables the application of machine learning technologies to address the challenges posed by a complicated textual tradition. In another project, Rubin is working to create a first-of-its-kind database of Latin manuscripts that includes descriptions of the Holy Land from the Crusader period.
Prof. Orit Shefi, of the Kofkin Faculty of Engineering, for her contribution to neuro-engineering and regeneration following injury and illness. Prof. Shefi develops robust systems that can stimulate renewed nerve growth by activating electric fields, magnetic fields, sound waves and chemical stimuli. Together with her students and other research groups, Prof. Shefi is developing components that simulate elements in the peripheral nervous system and in the brain that can be transplanted after an injury. Prof. Shefi has developed a chip that over time releases a protein that has been found to be effective in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.