Tag: Exact Sciences
From surgery to household tasks, humanity is about to see its daily life transformed. Prof. Irad Ben-Gal is planning for the biggest unknowns of our future.
Only twenty years ago, connecting to the internet meant sitting next to a desk and sorting through various cables, when downloading a photo could take ten minutes or more. Today, it seems like everything happens online – it’s where we find our friends and where elections and revolutions are won and lost.
But as we spend more and more of our lives in cyberspace, the question is: what’s next? The rate of change and growth is so rapid, even ten years can make a huge difference. Humanity’s biggest “unknown” is the immediate future: what can we do to foresee and cope with the next set of changes and challenges?
To answer these questions, Tel Aviv University partnered with Stanford University to create the Digital Living 2030 program. It will connect engineering students from Israel and the U.S. to lead the development of infrastructures, processes, methods and algorithms, hardware and software components, to create and support this new world.
When our digital self goes grocery shopping
According to Prof. Irad Ben-Gal, from the Department of Industrial Engineering, a founder of the Digital Living 2030 project, we’ll see many changes over the next ten years. Some for the better, some, potentially, for the worst.
What are the biggest changes waiting around the corner?
“In general,” Prof. Irad Ben-Gal said. “A lot of sectors will see accelerated progress in the coming decade, such as autonomous transportation, personal digital medicine, smart cities, industry (robots and artificial intelligence), virtual environments and applications that affect our personal lives.
“On a personal level, we will witness a more complete integration between our digital world and our physical world. People will live simultaneously in both worlds when their digital self will perform different tasks for them – it will learn, make decisions (in collaboration with other digital agents), perform social interactions, and more.”
What about our lives will be better by 2030?
“In principle, a large section of society will benefit from having a better life: personalized services such as autonomous transportation, personalized medicine, a longer and healthier life, increased leisure time, more efficient handling of information overload, and a variety of new and interesting professions.”
What are the biggest problems we’ll have to deal with?
“First and foremost, there is a danger of widening economic and social gaps between different people – experts and laymen in the digital world, between the rich and the poor, between developed and developing countries, between technologically advanced and non-technological sectors…
But we’ll have to cope with all of this just like previous generations had to cope with their own technological leaps forward. Every innovation introduces new risks, from the discovery of fire and stone tools, to dynamite, to artificial intelligence.”
What about 2130? On the basis of what you know today, what will life look like in a century?
“Nothing is truly certain, of course, but there’s one thing I’m sure of: the integration of the digital world with the physical world will be complete.
“The individual will not only be a physical entity represented in digital worlds (as we are today represented in social networks) but a perfect dual entity. The digital entity will be aware, make independent decisions, learn on its own, work in parallel with the physical entity and be rewarded accordingly, and will contain elements of emotions and awareness that don’t exist today.”
So, what are you most looking forward to in the coming decade, or the coming century? And how will you prepare? Are you looking forward to outsourcing your grocery shopping to your digital avatar or dreading having to be even more involved in cyberspace than you already are?
One thing’s for sure: the engineers taking part in Digital Living 2030 will do their best to make sure we’re as ready as it’s possible to be.
New research on object detection breaks with long-held principles of radar technologies
Radar technologies were originally designed to identify and track airborne military targets. Today they’re more often used to detect motor vehicles, weather formations and geological terrain.
Until now, scientists have believed that radar accuracy and resolution are related to the range of frequencies or radio bandwidth used by the devices. But a new Tel Aviv University study finds that an approach inspired by optical coherence tomography (OCT) requires little to no bandwidth to accurately create a high-resolution map of a radar’s surrounding environment.
“We’ve demonstrated a different type of ranging system that possesses superior range resolution and is almost completely free of bandwidth limitations,” says Prof. Pavel Ginzburg of TAU’s School of Electrical Engineering, one of the principal authors of the study. “The new technology has numerous applications, especially with respect to the automotive industry. It’s worth noting that existing facilities support our new approach, which means that it can be launched almost immediately.”
The new study was conducted jointly by Prof. Ginzburg, Vitali Kozlov, Rony Komissarov and Dmitry Filonov, all of TAU’s School of Electrical Engineering.
Preventing the traffic jams of the future
It was commonly believed that radar resolution was proportional to the bandwidth used. Meaning, a good, accurate radar, required a lot of bandwidth, something that could become a limited resource in the future.
“Our concept offers solutions in situations that require high-range resolution and accuracy but in which the available bandwidth is limited, such as the self-driving car industry, optical imaging and astronomy,” Kozlov explains. “Not many cars on the road today use radars, so there’s almost no competition for allocated frequencies. But what will happen in the future, when every car will be equipped with a radar and every radar will demand the entire bandwidth?
“We’ll find ourselves in a sort of radio traffic jam. Our solutions permit drivers to share the available bandwidth without any conflict,” Kozlov says.
The TAU researchers have now demonstrated that low-bandwidth radars can achieve similar performance at a lower cost and without broadband signals by exploiting the coherence property of electromagnetic waves. The new “partially coherent” radar, which uses significantly less bandwidth, is as effective as a standard “coherent” radars in experimental situations.
Using radar for rescue
“Our demonstration is just the first step in a series of new approaches to radiofrequency detectors that explore the impact of low-bandwidth radars on traditional fields,” Prof. Ginzburg concludes. “We intend to apply this technology to previously unexplored areas, like rescue operations — sensing if an individual is buried in a collapsed building — or street mapping — sensing if a child is about to cross the street behind a bus that conceals him.”
Research for the study was supported by an ERC grant and Kamin, and it was conducted at TAU’s Radio Physics Laboratory’s anechoic chamber.
March 14h is International Pi Day. Why do we celebrate it? Is pi still relevant 4,000 years after being discovered? And is peach pie better than cherry?
What’s the best kind of pie? And what’s the perfect crust-to-filling ratio? Mankind has been struggling with these questions since the dawn of baked goods, which is probably about as long as the number pi has been known to us.
Although Pi Day was first celebrated in the 1980s, the number pi (represented as the Greek letter π) was first discovered about 4,000 years ago. The ratio of a circle’s circumference to the circle’s diameter, pi is always the same, whether you’re measuring a penny or a truck tire. Not only that, but pi is an “irrational” number – no matter how many digits of pi we calculate, we’ll never be able to predict which digit comes next.
We decided to ask Ofir Gorodetsy, a PhD student at the School of Mathematical Sciences at Tel Aviv University, about the significance of pi.
“The decimal expansion of π starts with 3.14,” Ofir said. “Which is why we celebrate Pi Day on March 14th every year. And aside from being known to Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, pi is also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, where the approximation 3 is used to measure the circumference of a circle.”
Too much pi?
Although most people are familiar with pi as being 3.14, mathematicians have been struggling to find the other digits of pi for centuries. According to Ofir, “figuring out the digits of pi gets pretty difficult after a dozen or so. Many scholars from all over the world have tried to find more and more digits: Archimedes, Liu Hui, Brahmagupta, Fibonacci, Isaac Newton. In the 18th century a mathematician even came up with proof that the digits of pi don’t follow any pattern, so they never repeat in any predictable way.”
According to Ofir, figuring out the digits of pi is much easier these days. Even freshmen at university can calculate as many digits as they’d like, using modern tools.
But the magic of pi is not only its length, but how common it is in the natural world. The disk of the sun, the pupil of our eyes, the ripples in a pond, even the way rivers tend to bend and flow can be described using pi. It’s used in the work of biologists, engineers, geographers, physicsts, mathematicians. Almost every discipline that deals with the world around us crosses paths with this unique number at some point.
So why do we celebrate Pi Day? Probably because math is at its most delicious when it’s fresh out of the oven.
How the chemistry between archaeology and physics researchers led to groundbreaking discoveries about biblical history
Sometimes when you’ve stopped looking for a solution is exactly when it pops up. Israel Finkelstein, Jacob M. Alkow Professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages, Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, discovered a very interesting finding in 1998, at the archaeological excavation of Megiddo. He noticed a dig participant who did not quite fit the profile of a typical university undergraduate.
“I sniffed around and learned that this particular student was actually a TAU professor flying under the radar. He turned out to be a very important ‘find,’” smiles Finkelstein. That student, incumbent of the Wolfson Chair in Experimental Physics Eli Piasetzky, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences, was pursuing a degree in archaeology. Prof. Finkelstein pulled him aside to talk, and so began a research partnership that is still active two decades later.
When were early Biblical texts written?
The archaeological issue of the day was mapping the chronology of the Iron Age in ancient Israel. Finkelstein challenged Piasetzky to improve the dating of remains from biblical times by using the radiocarbon method. The findings, published in professional and lay publications worldwide, rendered a new timeline of ancient Israel with lasting ramifications for biblical studies.
“Until then, the dating of texts was based on Biblical considerations,” explains Prof. Finkelstein, adding, “You can say that Biblical history was the path of the researchers, and archeology was used as a tool to prove the Bible stories were true.” He said. His article caused an uproar among researchers around the world, and he realized that he needed a more accurate dating tool and a talented mathematician to help him. Prof. Finkelstein presented his friend with a challenge – to accurately date the findings discovered in the excavations and to prove his claims.
Using the radiocarbon dating method on hundreds of items collected and tested, Prof. Piasetzky and Prof. Finkelstein presented a new and more accurate timeline in the history of ancient Israel, which was published in the New York Times, and had long-term implications for the study of the Biblical period since then.
The excavation site at Tel Megiddo, where it all began
Algorithms for reading ancient inscriptions
Prof. Piasetzky and Prof. Finkelstein continue their quest to reconstruct ancient history. As reported by The New York Times, they are conducting analyses to help better decipher ink inscriptions on potsherds, known as ostraca that were unearthed at an ancient fortress in the deep desert of Arad in southern Israel.
“The citadel of Arad stands like a time capsule: Active about 2,600 years ago, it was a relatively short-lived, godforsaken outpost, a five-day journey from Jerusalem, populated by maybe 30 soldiers,” describes Finkelstein. “Who inscribed the potsherds found there? Who read them? The ostraca teach us about government and about literacy in ancient Judah. If we determine when writing became a tool used by a wide swathe of society, we can shed light on when early Biblical texts were written.”
A shopping list from thousands of years ago
Prof. Piasetzky and Prof. Finkelstein have put together a team of archaeologists, historians, physicists, mathematicians, and computer scientists to analyze handwriting and determine just how many hands penned the Arad ostraca.
To do so, they employ physics techniques of multispectral imaging to reveal inscriptions and improve readability. Next, they compare handwriting by using algorithms specially developed by the team. What they found there was surprising: the new lines discovered were a letter requesting the issuance of wine and food from the warehouses of the Tel Arad fortress to one of the military units in the area. The recipient of the letter was the warehouse clerk, while the address was an officer from Beersheba.
Beyond the information about what people used to eat and drink during that time, the researchers revealed that even quartermasters knew how to read and write, and also learned a few new words that don’t appear in the Bible. “From the content of the letters we learn that literacy permeated even the low ranks of the military administration of the kingdom. If we extrapolate this data to other areas of Judea, and assume that this was the case in the civil administration and among the clergy, the level of literacy is considerable. This level of literacy is a reasonable background for the composition of Biblical texts,” explains Prof. Finkelstein.
Facing the future
After studying the past, Prof. Finkelstein and Prof. Piasetzky explain what can be done with these special technologies in the 2000s. “One may ask why a student of mathematics would be interested in developing tools for handwriting analysis of ancient inscriptions,” Prof. Piasetzky says. “But this type of analysis is also acutely needed today by, say, lawyers, banks, and the police. Furthermore, we’re finding solutions for the challenges of deciphering ink inscriptions found on uneven clay surfaces with faded markings and missing pieces. If our algorithms can analyze decayed inscriptions, think what they can do with modern-day handwriting on flat clean paper surfaces.”
Prof. Finkelstein adds: “With handwriting we face a problem of subjectivity. Scholars – all of us – come with preconceptions. We can convince ourselves that we see this or that particular letter. The computer does not have preconceptions. It measures length of strokes and angles, making numerical comparisons. Our next step is to integrate multispectral imaging at digs. This could dramatically improve excavation methodologies by determining on site if a potsherd is treasure or junk. One inscription can change the way we understand history.”
Featured image: Prof. Eli Piasetzky and Prof. Israel Finkelstein talk about how it all started
At the shared laboratories of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, casual conversations between scientists can lead to breakthroughs
A chemist and a physicist walk into a clean room. No, this is not the one about how many people it takes to change a light bulb. Nor is it the one about two Israelis and three opinions. This is a true story about how two doctoral students from different fields got talking and realized that they may be able to use chemistry to solve a nagging problem in physics. “These students were the best kind – curious and open to new ideas and different ways of approaching a problem,” says Prof. Gil Markovich of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry. Prof. Yoram Dagan, Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy, nods in agreement.
Markovich and Dagan were the students’ respective PhD advisors and quickly saw the benefit of collaborating. In their research, they sought a solution to prevent damage to the surface of semiconductors – small components that control electrical current in devices such as computers and mobile phones, which damage the functioning of the devices.
For this kind of research, a particularly sterile laboratory is required. The special conditions in the “clean room” include a constant temperature of 20 degrees, 50 percent humidity, and a very powerful filter that prevents the entry of dust particles into the laboratory space and is responsible for creating a sterile work environment. These conditions are essential for the production of certain materials, especially electronic chips, which can be disrupted by something as tiny as a grain of dust.
From cell phones to thermal cameras
The scientists are using a chemical rather than physical process to create an electrical insulating thin film the thickness of a single atom. According to Dagan, “Unlike in physics, where non-organic materials are used, we used organic compounds to get the components that create the atom-thick layer.” In the process carried out by the scientists, they heated organic compounds to the point of dissolution. Once they touch the surface, they receive additional energy and break down until the process stops on its own. “This creates only a single layer of the insulating material, because there is not enough energy to form another layer,” Dagan explains. “In a cheap and rapid chemical process, we were able to offer an alternative to complicated and costly processes, and even to achieve a better result.”
Their invention could improve microelectronics in all the devices we carry in our pockets and have in our homes by making them faster, more efficient and more compact. “This is a long-term project – an idea that may be implementable twenty years down the line. Yet exploring this basic physics problem using nano-chemistry led us to an application that can be realized today,” says Dagan.
Markovich and Dagan have teamed up with industry experts for guidance in applying their technology to improve resolution in infrared cameras used for defense and security installations. The Israel Innovation Authority (formerly the Office of the Chief Scientist) has invested in the project with a grant reserved solely for projects that have a good chance to be commercialized in Israel. “It all begins, though, with basic science. Basic science is the foundation of knowledge. When we discover new possibilities and new materials, applications can grow,” stresses Dagan.
Collaboration opens new possibilities
Markovich and Dagan share a passion for unlocking the secrets of the universe: “We are both interested in origins,” says Dagan. “Gil researches the interaction of minerals with amino acids and DNA – the original building blocks of life. I am interested in the fundamental properties of matter and materials. I would not think up chemical approaches to physical problems by myself. Our collaboration is opening up new possibilities.” says Dagan.
“This has been a fun ride,” adds Markovich. “First, Yoram is a nice person. And I never worked on these kinds of problems before. We have ideas for cooperation on chemical ways to create new materials for quantum computing. The future is wide open.”
Featured iage:Prof. Gil Markovich and Prof. Yoram Dagan (Photo: Yoram Reshef)