A SERIES of mysterious green letters and red numbers cover the whiteboard in Dr Ido Amit's office at the
His research into mapping the regions in the genome that produce blood cells will be published soon in a prestigious scientific journal, says Amit, who envisions a future in which physicians will tailor individualized treatments for diseases based on a person's genetic makeup.
"We think we have solved a big piece of the puzzle of the development process of blood cells," the soft-spoken scientist says in a matter-of-fact tone.
Amit is among a small but growing cadre of young Israeli scientists who are returning home after their post-doctoral training at prestigious institutions abroad, signaling a measure of success of government efforts to reverse the brain drain. Over 1,000 have returned in the past three years. Many more would like to return, but there are not enough positions.
It is said that there is not a lab at
They called the chairman of
Israeli scientists who left for the US decades ago are not likely to return, but the government is hoping to lure back young scientists who are just now completing their post-doctoral studies in the US.
"The trends have changed from the past decade and we see an amazing flourishing of young scientists who want to return and great science being done by those who have recently returned." Dr.
Maoz coordinates the
I-CORE funds 16 research centers across scientific disciplines in universities, colleges, hospitals and research institutes. Each newresearch grant for five years. These centers have already assisted 58 returning scientists, including Amit.
"These are small numbers. I-CORE is not supposed to bring the masses," Maoz says.
"The main object is to build conditions that the best Israeli researchers from around the world can come back and continue to do world-class research without compromising."
After completing a post-doc, Amit didn't bother to apply for positions in the US even though he could have easily secured a post at one of the top universities. His work has already attracted attention. In 2009, a scientific journal called his research on new regulatory circuits that control the immune system a scientific breakthrough.
"My wife said, 'No way, forget it. After four years I want to go back.' It didn't cross my mind to stay in America even though you can get much more money, fame and glory," he says. "It wasn't a real option." His parents live on a kibbutz and his wife's father is a highranking officer in the
He says that had he stayed in the US, he would have had better conditions and resources, but asks, "Would I have enjoyed it more? I doubt it."
There was no infrastructure at Weizmann's
"Here we have very bright students who think outside the box," he says. "Just last week, we had a publication in one of the top three science journals."
The not so funny punch line is that about 29 percent of Israeli scientists do their research in the US and in
Israelis have no problem getting positions at top universities in the US. "Israelis have a fantastic reputation. They are considered among the best students and are much in demand," says Israeli Prof.
"You think to stay only a year or two and do some good science and get a better position in
Sonenberg, 67, will return to Israel this May to receive the prestigious Wolf Prize.
About one out of three Wolf Prize laureates in chemistry, physics and medicine have gone on to receive the Nobel.
"I don't think there is a lab at
Every two weeks, he attends a forum of about 20 Israeli biology post-docs at
Recently, he flew, all expenses paid, to a large scientific conference in Eilat. His flight, as well as the transportation expenses of 45 other Israeli post-docs, was paid for by the
"It was a great opportunity to form ties for when I apply for a job in
For all the good will and efforts to bring back its young scientists, Israeli academia is too small. "We don't have room for everyone," says Prof.
One of the lucky ones is Lilac Amirav, who did her post-doctoral work at
She has her own lab at the
Of the scientists who have returned to Israel in recent years, about 100 are in the field of nanotechnology, according to the Israel National Nanotechnology Initiative, which held its fourth annual international conference in
Amirav and her husband, also a scientist, felt that if they had stayed in the US any longer, it would have become permanent. "After a certain time you want to establish roots," she says. "What changed for us was when I got pregnant and our first son was born. We knew we want to raise him in
There is a list of 2,600 Israeli scientists working abroad interested in returning, who have registered online at the IASH Contact Center. The Center, established in 2007, collects up-to-date information on available positions to send by e-mail to researchers in the relevant professional fields.
Other countries suffer brain drain, but for Israel it can be an existential threat, witness the importance of scientific breakthrough in missile defense technology, such as Iron Dome, which has been protecting citizens from missiles launched from
Israeli academicians have long been warning that the serious attrition could erode the intellectual and creative culture that has catapulted the country to the cutting edge of hi-tech and science. They claim that the success of Israeli scientists, who have won six Nobel Prizes in the last decade, is a testament to the strong education of the early years when Israel built top-notch universities that competed with the world's finest.
There is talk of a lost decade up until 2010, in which the number of colleges and students increased dramatically, but budgets decreased in absolute terms and retiring professors were not replaced. The country's top universities have fewer senior faculty positions today than they did four decades ago, according to the Taub Center report. Since 1973, the number of students per professor has more than doubled, and universities have increasingly outsourced the teaching to non-research, external lecturers.
But things are not all gloom and doom, at least not according to Prof. Bar-Joseph.
"When we talk about brain drain, you hear a tone of despair and sadness. We hear in the news about the good old days when Ada Yonath and other Nobel Prize winners did their science and that those days are over, and we are doomed to mediocrity," he tells The Report in an interview in his office at the
"The bottom line is that an amazing thing is happening in
If I look at the young generation that have entered the gates of the
One of those outstanding young scientists is Dr.
KOLODKIN-GAL, 33, also a new I-CORE recruit, has already made major discoveries in two areas of microbiology, identifying key factors in the process of programmed cell death that can cause bacteria to selfdestruct.
Her studies have shown that bacteria appear to exhibit previously unsuspected levels of group behavior, "something like a kibbutz," and she has four patents to her name.
She did her post-doc at
Staying in the US was not an option.
"I was committed to Israel. I feel that science is a mission if it's done in
The Weizmann Institute has recruited 80 young scientists in the past seven years, virtually replacing a third of the 250-member academic staff.
"Each of those people who have joined us had a competing offer from leading places; I'm talking
Those people did not choose us as a last resort. The party is not over. We are building an even a nicer party with great scientists who are better trained and better equipped. At the Weizmann Institute, we try to pick the best and the brightest."
It doesn't always work and Weizmann officials are the first to admit that they made mistakes in the past.
When Prime Minister
"It was a wrong decision, a failure of the system," says Bar-Joseph. "He didn't get tenure, and he had to leave. But let's look at the good news. The work for which they got the Nobel Prize is work they did here.
Since no scientific discovery is done in a vacuum, they worked under their mentor and others. We are doing Nobel Prizequality research here."
Warshel and his co-winner,
"Science is international," Warshel told members of the committee. "You can't do things anymore the way things were done in the kibbutz when those who left to study had to commit to returning two years for every year of education."
Levitt, who left a tenured position at the
That may be the case, but undoubtedly Netanyahu would prefer his next congratulatory call to an Israeli Nobel laureate to be a local call.
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