TAU to Switch to Sustainable Electricity within Two Years

University becomes first in Israel to unroll plans for ‘green’ campus transformation.

In a first among Israeli universities, Tel Aviv University announced its plans to switch entirely to renewable electricity within two years. The pledge comes following the completion of a comprehensive assessment of campus’ greenhouse gas emissions (direct and indirect), as part of initial steps in a 10-year plan towards carbon neutrality.

Comprehensive Evaluation

External company EcoTraders conducted the evaluation according to the GHG Protocol – a global standardized framework used to measure greenhouse gas emissions. The comprehensive report includes details on all campus facilities that are owned and operated by the University, including the Broshim and Einstein student dormitories. The carbon footprint of the University’s suppliers was also assessed – from electricity consumption on campus, to transportation and construction inputs, to the food served at conferences and cafeterias.

The report was conducted using the University’s 2019 emissions data as a baseline year reference, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted many activities, resulting in a temporary reduction in emissions.

Moving towards Carbon Neutrality

“Tel Aviv University has decided to do its modest part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is crucial for addressing the climate crisis,” says Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University who also chairs TAU’s Green Campus Committee. “We intend to formulate a methodical and detailed 10-year plan, with the goal of attaining carbon neutrality further down the road. Our hope is to inspire other institutions in Israel and around the world to take similar actions, which, in addition, help educate the next generations about this important subject.”

Gady Frank, TAU’s Director-General adds, “We are working to make sure that in two years all the electricity produced on campus will be green. Currently, we have more than 5000 meters of photovoltaic cells, and our goal is to triple their amount on campus rooftops. In addition, we will install storage facilities, which will drastically increase the yield of these solar cells. The rest of the energy would be bought from private suppliers specializing in producing energy solely from green sources.”

 

“We intend to formulate a methodical and detailed 10-year plan, with the goal of attaining carbon neutrality further down the road. Our hope is to inspire other institutions in Israel and around the world to take similar actions.” 

 

Green roof of TAU’s Porter building

Recruiting Experts

About a year ago, the University’s Green Campus Committee, led by President Prof. Ariel Porat and Director-General Gady Frank, appointed a team of academic and administrative experts to create a strategic plan with the goal of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions on campus by encouraging more efficient use of resources and investing in renewable energy.

The team of experts hired EcoTraders to perform a baseline assessment of the overall carbon footprint of all TAU activities, on and off campus.

The team includes Prof. Marcelo Sternberg, Head of the Expert Team from George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences; Dr. Vered Blass and Dr. Orli Ronen – both of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences; Prof. Avi Kribus from the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering; Ofer Lugassi, Deputy Director-General for Engineering and Maintenance; and Alon Sapan, Director of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

Developing a Practical Plan

“We set out on this mission about a year and a half ago and decided that in order to lead real change on campus, we must conduct a thorough and comprehensive mapping of all of the University’s greenhouse gas emissions,” explains the team of experts. “This is a complex process that required the enlistment of many parties on campus, who agreed for the first time to share with us, and the authors of the report, information that had not been made public until now.”

Now, with the publication of the report’s findings, the expert team is developing a practical plan to reduce TAU campus’ greenhouse gas emissions, to be presented for discussion within the Green Campus Committee and subsequently submitted for approval by the University administration.

It is the first time that an Israeli university has taken this kind of action, and the experts are confident that other universities will follow in TAU’s footsteps.

 

“It is not trivial that the University is investing resources in collecting and analyzing the data – and it is even less trivial that the University is publishing this data – but we are committed to our strategic vision of striving to attain carbon neutrality in the future.”

 

Highlights from Report

According to the report, in 2019, Tel Aviv University was responsible for greenhouse gas emissions amounting to approximately 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 93% of which were indirect, with only 7% constituting direct energy-related emissions from the campus, mainly from its air-conditioning systems.

According to the report’s authors, the total indirect emissions are broken down as follows: Electricity consumption on campus (42%); waste production and management (11%); transportation (12%); food and beverage services (7%); construction and building maintenance inputs (4%); fuel and energy for the University’s facilities (4%); procurement (4%); computer and laboratory equipment (3%); other (6%).

Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University

Strategic Cuts

Numbers published in 2021 show that Tel Aviv University is responsible for emitting 1.56 tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases per capita per year, compared to Yale University’s 8.2 tons, the University of Melbourne’s 2.7 tons, and the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany’s 0.73 tons.

While the report shows that electricity consumption is the most polluting factor by far on TAU campus, reducing emissions generated from electricity consumption has so far not been an option, as the production method was determined by Israel’s Electric Corporation. However, this has changed. The experts say, “With the opening of the energy market, we plan to consider a transition from electricity suppliers that burn natural gas to suppliers that rely on renewable energy, and to expand the independent production of solar power within the campus.” When it comes to food procurement, the team will assess a variety of possibilities – from reducing the amount of food consumed, to precluding the ordering of meat products for events and kiosks.

The team concludes: “The new report lays down infrastructure that allows us to take a holistic view of the University’s total greenhouse gas emissions and identify the activities that cause the most pollution. This way, we can build comprehensive plans to reduce emissions from these activities in the short, medium, and long term. Moreover, the report will allow us to monitor and inspect the reduction in emissions over time and compare the numbers with the original values. It is not trivial that the University is investing resources in collecting and analyzing the data – and it is even less trivial that the University is publishing this data – but we are committed to our strategic vision of striving to attain carbon neutrality in the future.”

Two New Planets Found in Milky Way

TAU team leads discovery of giant planets, similar in size to Jupiter, in remote corner of the galaxy.

Tel Aviv University researchers led the recent discovery of two new planets in remote solar systems within the Milky Way galaxy. They identified the giant planets, named Gaia-1b and Gaia-2b, as part of a study in collaboration with teams from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the body’s Gaia spacecraft.

The development marks the first time that the Gaia spacecraft successfully detected new planets. Gaia is a star-surveying satellite on a mission to chart a 3D map of the Milky Way with unprecedented accuracy comparable to standing on Earth and identifying a 10-shekel coin (roughly the size of a U.S. nickel) on the Moon.  

TAU’s Prof. Shay Zucker, Head of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and doctoral student Aviad Panhi from the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics & Astronomy led the initiative. The findings were published in the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. 

More Discoveries on the Horizon

“The discovery of the two new planets was made in the wake of precise searches, using methods of artificial intelligence,” said Prof. Zucker. “We have also published 40 more candidates we detected by Gaia. The astronomical community will now have to try to corroborate their planetary nature, like we did for the first two candidates.”

The two new planets are referred to as “Hot Jupiters” due to their size and proximity to their host star: “The measurements we made with the telescope in the U.S. confirmed that these were in fact two giant planets, similar in size to the planet Jupiter in our solar system, and located so close to their suns that they complete an orbit in less than four days, meaning that each Earth year is comparable to 90 years of that planet,” he adds.  

Giant Leaps for Astronomy 

There are eight planets in our solar system. Less known are the hundreds of thousands of other planets in the Milky Way, which contains an untold number of solar systems. Planets in remote solar systems were first discovered in 1995 and have been an ongoing subject of astronomers’ research ever since, in hopes of using them to learn more about our own solar system.  

To fulfill its mission, Gaia scans the skies while rotating around an axis, tracking the locations of about 2 billion suns, stars at the center of a solar system, in our galaxy with precision of up to a millionth of a degree. While tracking the location of the stars, Gaia also measures their brightness — an incomparably important feature in observational astronomy, since it relays significant information about the physical characteristics of celestial bodies around them. Changes documented in the brightness of the two remote stars were what led to the discovery. Aviad Panhi explains: “The planets were discovered thanks to the fact that they partially hide their suns every time they complete an orbit, and thus cause a cyclical drop in the intensity of the light reaching us from that distant sun.”

To confirm that the celestial bodies were in fact planets, the researchers performed tracking measurements with the Large Binocular Telescope, in Arizona, one of the largest telescopes in the world today. The telescope makes it possible to track small fluctuations in a star’s movement which are caused by the presence of an orbiting planet.

The discovery marks another milestone in the scientific contribution of the Gaia spacecraft’s mission, which has already been credited with a true revolution in the world of astronomy. Gaia’s ability to discover planets via the partial occultation method, which generally requires continuous monitoring over a long period of time, has been doubted up to now. The research team charged with this mission developed an algorithm specially adapted to Gaia’s characteristics, and searched for years for these signals in the cumulative databases from the spaceship.  

Signs of Life?

What about the possibility of life on the surface of those remote new planets? “The new planets are very close to their suns, and therefore the temperature there is extremely high, about 1,000 degrees Celsius, so there is zero chance of life developing there,” explains Panhi. Still, he says, “I’m convinced that there are countless others that do have life on them, and it’s reasonable to assume that in the next few years we will discover signs of organic molecules in the atmospheres of remote planets. Most likely we will not get to visit those distant worlds any time soon, but we’re just starting the journey, and it’s very exciting to be part of the search.” 

Diagnosing Diseases in Space

TAU researchers successfully test genetic diagnosis under microgravity conditions.

If pursuing the unknown in space is on your bucket list, you can take comfort in knowing that TAU researchers recently conducted a unique experiment at the International Space Station to test genetic diagnosis under microgravity conditions. The researchers launched a kit together with Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe to space and proved that an existing technology based on a bacterial immune system against viruses, ‘CRISPR’, can be used to identify viruses and bacteria infecting crew members during space missions.

The study was led by Dr. Dudu Burstein from the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, Tel Aviv University and Dr. Gur Pines from the Volcani Institute. The experiment was conducted by Stibbe as part of the “Rakia” mission in April, under the leadership of the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency.

Suited for Astronauts

CRISPR systems are the immune systems of bacteria from viruses. Bacteria use the CRISPR-Cas systems as a sort of molecular ‘search engine’ to locate viral sequences and cleave them to disable viruses.

As part of their scientific vision, the researchers hypothesized that genetic diagnostics using this method, which requires minimal and easily operated equipment, could be suitable for long space missions: “Conditions in space are extremely problematic,” explains Burstein. “Treatment methods are limited, so it is essential to identify pathogens [= a microorganism that can cause disease] in a rapid, reliable, and straightforward method.” The method stands in contrast to tests like PCR (which we are now all familiar with due to Covid-19), which Burstein notes require trained personnel and relatively complex equipment.”

 

Researchers discussing the experimental design. From left to right: Dan Alon, Dr. David Burstein, Dr. Gur Pines (Photo: Ella Rannon)

Burstein outlines the process: “First, the DNA is amplified: each targeted DNA molecule is repeatedly duplicated many times. Then the CRISPR-Cas goes into action: If it identifies the target DNA, it activates a fluorescent molecular marker. The fluorescence lets us know whether the bacteria or viruses of interest are indeed present in the sample. This whole process can be conducted in one tiny test tube, so it is well suited for the astronauts’ needs.”

Zero Gravity? No problem!

Dr. Burstein describes the preparation for the space experiment: “Doctoral student Dan Alon and Dr. Karin Mittelman planned the experiment in detail and conducted it countless times in the lab under various conditions. After reaching the desired result, they prepared a kit, including the CRISPR-Cas system and the other components required for detection. Eventually, the kit was launched with Eytan Stibbe to the International Space Station.”

The experiments conducted by Stibbe were very successful, and proved that it is indeed possible to perform precise and sensitive CRISPR-based diagnosis – even in an environment with virtually no gravity.

What now? “This is the first step towards the simple and rapid diagnosis of diseases and pathogens on space missions,” says Burstein, adding that there is still some work to do on the next stages, including, “simple extraction of DNA from samples, making the system more efficient, so that it will be able to test a variety of organisms in one test tube, and diagnosis of more complex samples.”

“It was inspiring to see our test kit in Eytan’s hands at the Space Station, and we’re even more excited by the possibility that such kits will help future astronauts on their extraterrestrial missions,” he concludes.

 

Eytan Stibbe executing the experiment on the International Space Station (Photo: the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency)

Featured image: International space station on orbit of planet Earth 

Asper Foundation, TAU Launch Innovative Clean Water Project

Gift enhances partnership between Tel Aviv University and one of Canada’s largest foundation.

Tel Aviv University together with the Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University (CFTAU) on June 14 inaugurated the Asper Clean Water Fund, established with a $407,000 gift from The Asper Foundation, one of Canada’s largest private foundations. The funds will bolster the work of TAU’s Water Energy (WE) Lab to further develop technology that produces safe drinking water in the developing world. 

Headed by Prof. Hadas Mamane of TAU’s Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, the Lab is among numerous research teams devising solutions to address global water scarcity. Her Lab has developed a patented technology that uses LED lighting and solar energy to disinfect water. The laptop-sized device—called SoLED—operates without any chemicals or electricity to kill 99.9% of bacteria and viruses from water, making it cheaper and easier to use than existing solutions in remote areas. 

At least 2 billion people around the world use water from contaminated sources. Furthermore, unsafe water is linked to the deaths of an estimated 800 children each day. The issue predominantly affects people in the developing world, where access to clean water resources is often unaffordable or inaccessible. More so, as the impact of climate change increases, water scarcity will affect nearly half the world’s population by 2025, according to expert estimates. 

Among attendees at the inauguration ceremony at TAU were Gail Asper, President and Trustee of The Asper Foundation; Moses Levy, Executive Director of The Asper Foundation; TAU Vice President for Resource Development Amos Elad; Dean of the Engineering Faculty Prof. Noam Eliaz; and Prof. Mamane together with researchers from her lab. 

“My late parents, Israel and Babs, would be incredibly proud of this endeavor which will make such a positive impact on people’s lives,” said Gail Asper. “The research at Prof. Mamane’s Water-Energy Lab and at Tel Aviv University aligns with our Foundation’s commitment to supporting entrepreneurial spirit and to creating a better world. We are excited to embark on this journey to advance innovative ideas and change lives.” 

The support of The Asper Foundation, a leading force in Jewish and general philanthropy in Israel and Canada, will enable Prof. Mamane and her team to further expand the capabilities of the technology and field-test the device. Their ultimate goal is to produce a scalable version that could be manufactured for mass distribution.  

 

Prof. Hadas Mamane, head of Tel Aviv University’s Water Energy (WE) Lab, with the SoLED device. (Credit: Rafael Ben-Menashe/TAU)

The gift enhances the existing partnership of philanthropic support and collaboration between the Asper Family, based in Winnipeg, and the University. 

Tel Aviv University President Prof. Ariel Porat said: “As Israel’s largest research university, TAU places great importance on creating solutions to global challenges to the environment and society. We are thrilled to welcome The Asper Foundation as a partner and look forward to working with its team.” 

Prof. Mamane, Head of the Water-Energy Lab and Environmental Engineering Program at TAU, explained that her passion for the project stems from her deep-seated desire to help bridge the disparities in affordable clean water access, particularly for vulnerable peoples in rural and low-income communities. Her lab works with interdisciplinary teams from disciplines including Social Sciences, Psychology and Public Policy to determine the most effective ways to incorporate her technology into broader safe water delivery processes. 

“My team and I are delighted and honored by The Asper Foundation’s support,” she said. “This gift will accelerate our efforts to provide underserved populations with access to clean water—a basic human right and an endeavor that stands to save thousands of lives.” 

Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University Chief Executive Officer (Ontario & Western Canada) Stephen Adler added: “CFTAU is proud to be a link between the great Canadian family and Israel’s leading research university. We look forward to seeing the fruits of this research and identifying ways to maximize its impact in Israel, Canada and around the world. We thank The Asper Family Foundation and the Asper Family for their continued support and friendship.” 

If We Let Them Go, They Won’t Come Crawling Back

One in every five species of reptiles is facing extinction.

There are over 12,000 species of reptiles crawling our planet, but according to a new international study, involving researchers from Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 21% of these, or a total of about 2,000 species, are threatened with extinction. How can we save them? Or is it too late?

15.6B Years of Evolution Down the Drain?

The comprehensive study, the first of its kind in history, was conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and included 52 researchers from around the world, including Prof. Shai Meiri of Tel Aviv University’s School of Zoology, The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, and Dr. Uri Roll of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The study was published in the prestigious journal Nature.

The findings of the study show that 30% of forest-dwelling reptiles and about 14% of those living in arid areas are threatened, and that 58% of all turtle species and 50% of all crocodile species are in danger of becoming extinct. The researchers sadly point out that if all of the 1,829 species of turtles, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes that have been found to be threatened do indeed become extinct in the coming years, the world will lose a cumulative wealth of 15.6 billion years of evolution.

Fortunately, no species of reptile has become extinct in Israel in the last decade, but there are many species that are endangered, such as the Hermon Gecko, the Be’er Sheva fringe-fingered lizard and several more.

 

50% of all crocodile species are in danger of becoming extinct

Mapping Out the Threats

The IUCN is an international body whose role is, among other things, to assess the threat of extinction posed to various species. Each species of animal or plant receives a score on a five-point scale. The purpose of this ranking is to define those species that are the most endangered, thereby enabling decision makers and various bodies, such the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, to outline policies accordingly.

In 2004, the IUCN released a comprehensive report on amphibians, and a few years later it issued reports on birds and mammals. The IUCN has been working on the reptile report for the past 18 years, having invited experts on this taxonomic group from all over the world to participate.

“In general, the state of reptiles in the world is bad,” says Prof. Meiri. “It’s worse than that of birds and mammals, though not as bad as that of the amphibians. And of course there are a lot of nuances. We see that turtles are in a worse position than lizards and snakes, but that may be because we know more about turtles. Perhaps if we knew more about snakes, we would see that they, too, are in big trouble.”

“The biggest threat to reptiles is the destruction of their habitats due to agriculture, deforestation, and urban development, and less because of direct hunting, which mainly affects turtles and crocodiles. We created detailed maps of these threats. For example, if a particular species is highly threatened in the Israel’s Arava desert, but not in the rest of its habitat range that may span the entire Arabian Peninsula, then globally it is not considered a threatened species. The new assessments, for more than 10,000 species of reptiles, will allow us to understand their conservation needs, and hopefully enable us to find far more intelligent solutions for them than we have been able to so far.”

 

Prof. Shai Meiri

Dr. Uri Roll adds, “This is important work that forms the initial basis for risk assessment among various reptiles around the world, but is certainly not the end of the story. We still lack a lot of information about the various risks facing reptiles. For example, climate change is expected to have significant effects on reptiles. The current assessment that has just been published does not yet include these future threats in its reptile risk assessments. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”

When asked whether it is still possible to stop the wheels from turning, Prof. Meiri says that “There’s room for optimism, but not overly so. It is finally possible, thanks in part to this study, to plan dedicated nature conservations for reptiles as well – there is more awareness and there are ways in which we can help them. In Israel, great efforts are made to protect various kinds of turtles. Less attention is paid to most species of lizards and snakes, however, which make up the vast majority.”

Featured image: Endangered: Egyptian mastigure (Photo: Alex slavenko)

Standing Up to Climate Change

TAU researchers are making significant environmental impact on the ground—now.

A software programmer, an ecologist and a wildlife photographer enter a room. This is not the preamble to a joke. This is a normal scene in Dr. Ofir Levy’s Tel Aviv University lab, where a diverse group of scientists develop advanced tools to protect wildlife in the face of the accelerating climate crisis.

Levy is among the scores of TAU researchers who are pursuing innovative solutions under TAU’s Climate Crisis Initiative, also known as PlanNet Zero, a new nerve center uniting brainpower from all faculties—along with industry and government partners. Leveraging TAU’s interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial strengths, the Initiative aims to spearhead new technologies, models, regulations and policy recommendations for tackling the climate crisis.

“Climate records are being shattered nearly every year,” explains Levy of the School of Zoology, Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. “It is up to us to safeguard the biodiversity critical to the planet’s ecological balance.”

Together with researchers from TAU’s new Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, Levy’s lab develops AI and machine learning technologies to simulate future ecosystems. Using these models, the decision-makers with effective recommendation for protecting them.

“AI is taking climate research to new frontiers,” explains Levy. “It offers a window into the future implications of climate change on the need for animals to modify their habitats because of desertification, urbanization and deforestation.”

Additionally, in cooperation with the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development, Levy is developing tools to assess the impact of climate change impact on search and rescue dogs. More frequent extreme weather phenomena may affect the sensory abilities and overall wellbeing of the dogs, he explains. His research could eventually help improve the animals’ ability to find and save people.

Levy recently won competitive grants from National Geographic’s “AI for Earth” and the joint TAU-Google “AI for Social Good” programs. 

Going forward, he hopes to apply his innovations to protecting people, such as early-warning systems for mass health events such as heat stroke or forecasting climate-related insect migration to prevent crop disease.

Mobilizing TAU’s Collective Power

Amid the growing global need to meet climate targets, TAU is redoubling efforts to lead transformative change and has made the topic an institutional priority.

“It’s now the era for scientists and academia to help find solutions to the climate situation,” says
Prof. Colin Price, who heads PlanNet Zero together with the Department of Environmental Studies at TAU’s Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

Among institutional efforts, TAU rolled out plans to reduce its environmental footprint and eventually reach carbon-neutrality, a benchmark Israel and other nations pledged to meet by 2050 to mitigate global warming.

Furthermore, the University launched several new programs to foster climate leadership. The new undergraduate course “Climate Change and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary View” was the most popular of the 2020-21 academic year, with some 1,000 students enrolled. At a climate conference hosted by the Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences, Israel’s Minister of Environmental Protection and TAU alumna Tamar Zandberg announced a new government-backed scholarship program to support climate research by graduate students at the Faculty.

Moreover, in an effort to disentangle the climate crisis for the public, the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at TAU unveiled the exhibition “Global Warning: The Climate, the Crisis and Us.”

“Climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity today,” says Prof. Tamar Dayan, Chair of the Steinhardt Museum. “Alongside the exhibition, we aspire to turn our visitors into agents for change, who will carry the message beyond the Museum’s walls.”

Redesigning Trends in Sustainability

To push the needle on the global climate crisis, PhD candidate Meital Peleg Mizrachi, of TAU’s Department of Public Policy, is advocating for a fashion industry makeover.

​Peleg Mizrachi, an environmental justice researcher at TAU and social entrepreneur, is a rising authority in Israel on making fashion—the world’s second-most polluting industry—sustainable.

 

Meital Peleg Mizrahi (center) and friends modeling sustainable fashion

The process of manufacturing clothing emits over 40 billion tons of textile waste and 1.2 billion tons, or 10 percent, of greenhouse gases—the main driver of global warming. At the root of the industry’s environmental footprint, Peleg Mizrahi explains, is the exploding “fast fashion” market of quickly and cheaply mass-produced garments.

Under the supervision of Knesset Member and TAU Prof. Alon Tal, Peleg Mizrachi’s research explores ways to encourage economic regulation and consumer behavior that promote sustainable fashion. Tal is one of several TAU climate experts in prominent government roles, including zoology Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Schor, Chief Scientist at Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry.

In a recent project, Peleg Mizrachi gauged the prices at which consumers are more inclined to shop sustainably. In other studies, she demonstrated how new technologies and market behaviors spurred by COVID-19 can be transformed into climate solutions.

She also applies her research toward grassroots advocacy. She was recently involved in a series of local climate policy conferences and founded ‘Dress Well,’ an organization that seeks to reduce textile waste in Israel.

״When we think of the climate crisis, we think of Australian wildfires, vanishing polar bears and droughts in Syria,” she says. “The connection between these events and the clothes in our closets are usually overlooked; in fact, fashion is one of the most significant factors in dealing with the climate crisis.”

TAU: Hub for Regional Cooperation

TAU’s location in the heart of the Middle East with proximity to Israel’s diverse ecosystems contributes to its edge in leading regional climate initiatives.

For example, to address trans-border water issues in the Middle East, TAU Prof. Hadas Mamane of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering is eyeing cooperation opportunities with regional partners.

As floods, droughts and extreme weather intensify due to climate change, UNICEF estimates that by 2025, half of the world’s population will live in areas with water scarcity. Meanwhile, Israel’s chronic water shortage has necessitated the development of novel solutions.

 

Prof. Hadas Mamane     

Mamane heads the Water-Energy Laboratory, which develops efficient UV-LED lighting technologies that disinfect water using solar power, among its pursuits. The invention is suitable for use in remote areas with limited access to the chemicals and electricity used in traditional water decontamination.

Additionally, water monitoring tools developed by her lab are already used in India and Tanzania in several projects carried out with Dr. Ram Fishman of the Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences and Boris Mints Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions to Global Challenges.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

“We are trying to help some of the world’s most vulnerable populations access resources that should be afforded to them as part of their basic human rights,” says Mamane.

Now, Mamane hopes to launch a project with the Palestinian Authority and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies to purify and disinfect sewage water for unrestricted agricultural use, including crop cultivation.

In another regional partnership borne through the Abraham Accords, TAU’s Moshe Mirilashvili Institute for Applied Water Studies, headed by Prof. Dror Avisar of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, is involved in joint Israeli-UAE water research.

Enhancing Cross-Industry Impact

“The fastest way to make an impact on climate change is to apply academic knowledge toward accelerating relevant industry capabilities,” says Prof. Tamir Tuller of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Bioinformatics.

This is the approach that Tuller, head of TAU’s Computational Systems and Synthetic Biology Laboratory, takes with his start-up Imagindairy where he is co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer. The company uses his genetic engineering techniques to produce affordable dairy products from yeast.

Imagindairy aims to generate milk that is identical in taste, aroma and texture to cow products, Tuller explains, but without the environmental damage or ethical dilemmas associated with animal husbandry.

Cattle alone are responsible for approximately 65 percent of the livestock sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from methane that cows belch out while feeding.

“This type of technology could one day replace the need for dairy cows,” he says. He adds that widespread adoption of lab-developed milk substitutes has the potential to significantly curb emissions. But how will Tuller’s team get the public on board?

“Our models can eventually lead to products that are cheaper than traditional cow’s milk,” explains Tuller, underlining that economic incentive is key to impactful consumer behavior.

He expects Imagindairy’s products to be commercially viable within a few years. This quest was boosted with a recent $13 million investment, raised with support from Ramot – TAU’s technology transfer company.

Solid Foundations for Leadership

Dozens of TAU alumni have taken leadership roles that address climate issues on the international stage. Two of them, Dr. Ido Sella and the late Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel, who was tragically killed in an accident last year, met as students at TAU.

In 2012, the pair founded sustainable concrete start-up, ECOncrete, which offers a more durable and ecological solution for coastal and marine construction than traditional concrete. The product simultaneously reduces carbon emissions and safeguards marine life. Today, the company is experiencing massive growth, and its eco-friendly solutions are used in more than 40 sites around the world. Similarly, its technology was recently tapped to anchor US offshore wind turbines as part of the White House administration’s aims to increase energy capacity a thousand-fold by 2030.

The late Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel (left) and Dr. Ido Sella

“The concrete industry has a massive environmental footprint responsible for 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions and vast marine damage,” says Sella.

He explains that the demand for sustainable concrete has reached new heights as society—particularly the approximately 50% of population centers on coastlines—braces for a rise in sea levels and increased storminess due to climate change. 

“ECOncrete offers a new way to reduce the CO2 footprint of working waterfronts,” he says.

Sella sees oceans of potential for bringing more applied science to commercial endeavors via academia, thus propelling climate progress. 

Prof. Colin Price, too, underlines the need for all industries and sectors to work with academia to prevent catastrophic climate outcomes.

“We have big ambitions at TAU,” Price says. “We aim to have maximum impact and expand local models to regional and global scales.”

 

Climate Research at TAU:

TAU researchers from across campus are finding ways to mitigate climate change, among them:

  • Prof. Brian Rosen (Engineering) patented a technology that consumes greenhouse gases as a means to generate “clean” synthetic fuels.
  • PhD candidate Hofit Shachar (Exact Sciences) is developing an app that predicts the risk of wildfires through smartphone sensors and weather data.
  • Dr. Eran Tzin (Law) applies his research as head of TAU’s Environmental Justice and Animal Rights Clinic to advance legislation to ensure implementation of Israel’s climate commitments.
  • Prof. Colin Price (Exact Sciences) is building a nanosatellite to monitor global climate conditions from space. Dr. Ram Fishman (Social Sciences) discovered a link between violent crime and rising temperatures. 
  • Sophia Igdalov, of Dr. Vered Blass’s team (Exact Sciences), evaluated the carbon footprint of materials used in Israel’s housing industry, suggesting strategies to cut emissions.

Tackling Environmental Challengesin TLV and Monaco

As part of TAU’s practical work in mitigating the effects of air pollution and climate change, the Frenkel Initiative to Combat Pollution supports projects between TAU, Israeli companies and Monaco. Current initiatives include operating an accelerator for startups in clean energy, air purification and replacing plastic; introducing smart transportation solutions to Monaco officials for reducing carbon emissions; and researching critical problems specific to Monaco such as urban heat stress and maritime transport emissions.

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Monaco Bay

Although the Initiative attempts to find technological solutions specifically for Monaco, TAU Benefactor and Governor Aaron Frenkel hopes it can make an outsized contribution toward combating climate change and related environmental threats for the entire Mediterranean region and beyond. The Frenkel Initiative is also affiliated with the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, which is dedicated to safeguarding the environment. 

By Julie Steigerwald-Levi

The “COTS-Capsule” that protects electronic systems from hazardous radiation effects in space

An Innovative Technology has been Launched into Space…

Tel Aviv University recently launched TauSat-3 satellite to space. TauSat-3 is a technological demonstrator of the COTS-Capsule, an innovative space mechanism for detecting and mitigating cosmic-rays induced damage to space systems. The satellite was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, onboard a Falcon 9 rocket as part of the SpaceX CRS-24 mission. It was then transferred, via the Cargo Dragon C209 spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The satellite was successfully installed and put into operation at the International Space Station. The satellite connected via the ISS datalink network and communicated successfully with ground stations.

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For the 1st time at an Israeli university: Air and Space Power Center

Tel Aviv University and the Israeli Air Force establish a joint center that will harness the world of civilian research and knowledge to advance various areas related to policymaking and strategic thinking on issues of air and space.

On Thursday Dec. 30, Tel Aviv University and the Israeli Air Force launched the Air and Space Power Center at TAU, named the Elrom Center.

The new Center, which is the first of its kind in Israel, will harness the world of research and knowledge to advance various areas related to air and space power in Israel.

The ceremony, held at TAU, was led by TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat, in the presence of Air Force Commander Aluf Amikam Norkin.

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Academic symposium on how space technologies can help tackle major climate change issues

“We have to work together to truly preserve our planet for the future,”
says Jewish-American trailblazer.

NASA astronaut Dr. Jessica Meir on Thursday addressed Tel Aviv University’s 2021 Board of Governors Meeting, discussing her missions to space, life under extreme environmental conditions, and the relationship between her research and combating climate change.

Meir, who is also a marine biologist and physiologist, delivered her remarks by live broadcast at the Yehiel Ben-Zvi Academic Symposium, entitled “Between Climate Change, Space Research and Life under Extreme Conditions,” held on the TAU campus. This year’s symposium topic highlights TAU’s prioritization of climate change research. As part of this campus-wide effort, TAU recently launched the Center for Climate Change Action.

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How are the Birds Coping with Climate Change?

Researchers detect changes in birds’ bodies, probably caused by global warming.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have found changes in the morphology of many birds in Israel over the past 70 years, which they interpret to be a response to climate change. The body mass of some species decreased, while in others body length increased – in both cases increasing the ratio between surface area and volume. The researchers contend that these are strategies to facilitate heat loss to the environment: “The birds evidently changed in response to the changing climate. However, this solution may not be fully adequate, especially as temperatures continue to rise.”

Relying on the vast bird collection preserved by The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at TAU, the researchers looked for changes in bird morphology over the past 70 years in Israel. They examined approximately 8,000 adult specimens of 106 different species – including migratory birds that annually pass through Israel (such as the common chiffchaff, white stork, and black buzzard), resident wild birds (like the Eurasian jay, Eurasian eagle-owl, and rock partridge), and commensal birds, that live near humans. They built a complex statistical model consisting of various parameters to assess morphological changes – in the birds’ body mass, body length and wing length – during the relevant period.

The study was led by Prof. Shai Meiri and PhD student Shahar Dubiner of the School of Zoology, The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University. The paper was published in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Cooling Down

Prof. Meiri explains that according to Bergmann’s rule, formulated in the 19th century, members of bird and mammal species living in a cold climate tend to be larger than members of the same species living in a warmer climate. This is because the ratio of surface area to volume is higher in smaller animals, permitting more heat loss (an advantage in warm regions), and lower in larger bodies, minimizing heat loss (a benefit in colder climates). Based on this rule, scientists have recently predicted that global warming will lead to a reduction in animal size, with a possible exception: birds living in the human environment (such as pigeons, house sparrows, and the hooded crow) may gain size due to increased food availability, a phenomenon already witnessed in mammals such as jackals and wolves.

Either Long or Slender

Shahar Dubiner: “Our findings revealed a complicated picture. We identified two different types of morphological changes: some species had become lighter – their mass had decreased while their body length remained unchanged; while others had become longer – their body length had increased, while their mass remained unchanged. These together represent more than half of the species examined, but there was practically no overlap between the two groups – almost none of the birds had become both lighter and longer. We think that these are two different strategies for coping with the same problem, namely the rising temperatures. In both cases, the surface area to volume ratio is increased (by either increasing the numerator or reducing the denominator) – which helps the body lose heat to its environment. The opposite, namely a decrease in this ratio, was not observed in any of the species.”

 

The researchers (from left to right): Shahar Dubiner and Prof. Shai Meiri

Global Phenomenon

Sadly, flying away from global warming is not an option. These findings were observed across the country, regardless of nutrition, and in all types of species: resident birds; commensal species living in the human environment – which, contrary to predictions, exhibited changes similar to those of other birds; and migrants.

A difference was identified, however, between the two strategies: changes in body length tended to occur more in migrants, while changes in body mass were more typical of non-migratory birds. The very fact that such changes were found in migratory birds coming from Asia, Europe, and Africa, suggests that we are witnessing a global phenomenon.

The study also found that the impact of climate change over time on bird morphology (the birds’ change in either weight or length over time, relative to the actual temperature change during that time) is ten times greater than the impact of similar differences in temperature between geographical areas (the birds’ differences in weight or length in different geographical areas, relative to the temperature differences between those areas).

What is the Limit of Evolutionary Flexibility?

Shahar Dubiner: “Our findings indicate that global warming causes fast and significant changes in bird morphology. But what are the implications of these changes? Should we be concerned? Is this a problem, or rather an encouraging ability to adapt to a changing environment? Such morphological changes over a few decades probably do not represent an evolutionary adaptation, but rather certain phenotypic flexibility exhibited by the birds. We are concerned that over such a short period of time, there is a limit to the flexibility or evolutionary potential of these traits, and the birds might run out of effective solutions as temperatures continue to rise.”

Featured image: Israeli birds have become either longer or slenderer over the past 70 years