Some of the Technion’s best and brightest students, accompanied by rocket scientist Professor Alon Gany, recently visited our offices in New York City. Sitting down with our staff and senior leadership was just the first stop in their journey across the U.S. In total, six students are currently traveling across the nation to meet ATS staff, donors, industry leaders and others interested in what it’s like to be a student of the Technion.
See highlights below of the Q & A panel discussion led by Jeff Richard, our Executive Vice President.
Jeff: We are thrilled to have you visit. As I know you all have busy workloads back in Haifa, I’m wondering why it was important to take the time to visit so many of our offices here in the U.S.?
Shani Elitzur, a PhD student of Aerospace Engineering studying green energy: This is an amazing opportunity for us to say thank you to the people who influence our daily lives. Our lab was donated by ATS supporters. All of the equipment in the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, our libraries, and basically everything that we have is donated. It’s a great help and we appreciate it a lot. My fellowship allows me to concentrate solely on my research. I just want to say thank you for that.
Nimrod Harani, an undergraduate majoring in both materials science and engineering plus chemistry: I want to connect faces to the people who are now just names on plaques in the dormitories, the libraries and the laboratories. They’re people with their own stories that influence Israel and the Technion.
Jeff: Tell me a bit about being a student in Haifa — what is it like studying in such a tech-driven hub for innovation, in such a diverse community?
Ari Levine, a PhD student in chemistry with a medical degree from Bar-Ilan University: Haifa is big on co-existence. You have Jews, Arabs and Christians; you have Russian immigrants and Ethiopian immigrants. That kind of diversity is reflected in the Technion student community too. Meeting all of these people gives rise to new ideas, new ways of thinking and pushes forward achievement. It also makes student life incredibly interesting.
Nimrod: The Technion is the institution that puts life into Haifa. The creativity and the vibe of solving problems makes the area around it thrive. The Technion is the core.
Jeff: Many talk about a “secret sauce,” a zeitgeist that encourages students over there to think creatively and independently, to push the boundaries. Please share your thoughts on what drives such entrepreneurial spirit on the Technion campus.
Nimrod: There’s always a struggle for any student to go outside of academia to build start-ups. But Technion professors accept revolutionary ideas. They use their laboratories to innovate and promote new notions, which puts high-tech and the Start-Up Nation inside the Technion. Many graduate students and professors have startups, but they don’t leave academia. One year they invent in the lab, and the next they launch a start-up. This is a real strength for the Technion.
Ari: I found something in a research paper that didn’t make sense. So I talked to my professor and he said, ‘yeah your point is interesting but people have been talking about this for 10 years. Everything we know, we know.’ Yet he encouraged me to start researching it. We found what we believe is a completely different answer, which gave rise to what we call “quantum mechanical unfurling.” It was interesting how my professor was open to me challenging things that are already known, which I’m not sure you get in every school. That’s something really special at the Technion. Not only are we encouraged to go forward with our ideas, but we also have the full backing of our professors.
Shani: We are in the Technion. Innovation is part of our lives. This is what is expected. You have no other options. You don’t think you are doing innovative stuff, you’re just working on what you love and innovation is in the air.
Jeff: Professor Gany, you hold some 20 patents, so it’s safe to say you know a thing or two about innovation. Can you give us your point of view?
Professor Gany, Head of the Sylvia and David I.A. Fine Rocket Propulsion Center, Director of the Aerothermodynamics Lab, and Deputy Head of the Aeronautical Research Center: If you’re in research, you have to deal with traditional research but you also have to come up with novel ideas. You have to take risks. We do take risks, which means that we come up with new ideas, diverse ideas, and we are called the “Start-Up Nation” because of this. Students are encouraged to think innovatively, to develop ideas themselves, and it eventually pays off. Those who finish at the Technion have a bright future.
Jeff: We hear a lot about the Technion’s academic rigor. Can you tell us how that figures into your own journey and experience on campus?
Nimrod: I studied two courses of mathematics at another university in Israel. Both of them together weren’t enough to replace the basic math course at the Technion. When I got here, I realized I was in a completely different university.
Ari: I had the ability to study both medicine and theoretical chemistry at the same time only because I had done my bachelor’s at the Technion. I don’t think that any other school would have prepared me for competing on that level.
Jeff: Tell us about life outside the classroom. Is that encouraged? Is there enough time?
Danielle Movsowitz, an undergraduate student in computer science, focusing on cloud computing: There’s not much time (laughs) but it certainly is encouraged. We do try to find time to do things, especially since the studies are so hard. I am active in the Technion Students Association, and we plan many parties, social events, gym classes, movies and other gatherings on campus. The events are as cheap and accessible as possible. We also do study. I often find myself staying at the library till midnight. But then we’ll go to the pub, situated in the center of the university, or to a party on campus. If you only study, that’s not good for your head!
Jeff: What specific challenges, if any, have you faced being students at the Technion?
Danielle: In computer science we are about 30 percent women, and we’re bringing more women in each year. I don’t feel that anybody puts us aside because we’re women. Not only that, but most of the honor students are women (laughs) because they work very hard to prove they are worthy.