Israel: Science and Technology

January 1st, 2013

Israeli Science and Technology

Early Zionist ideologies emphasized building, cultivating, and developing often barren land, providing a major stimulus for Israel’s concentration on developing science and technology.  In the early years of statehood, research focused on national projects like development of defensive weapons, drip irrigation, and other agricultural technologies necessary to till the land. The State still strongly encourages involvement and education in science and technology. Today, with the growth of a robust private sector and continued high levels of government support, the science and technology sphere is not simply one element of the economy, but a major source of pride for Israel. Both the percentage of Israelis engaged in scientific and technological inquiry, and the amount of money that is spent on research and development in relation to Israel’s GDP are ranked among the highest in the world.2

Israeli technology has had a significant impact on the world.  Most influentially, complex drip irrigation technology has helped transform the agriculture sector of many countries where water is scarce.  Medical developments in a variety of areas, investigation of alternative energy sources, software and computer technology, and aeronautics are just some of the fields in which Israel has contributed to the advancement of science and technology.

For further background information:
“Looking at Israel: Science and Technology,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Ministry of Science and Technology

Government industries provide significant support to the science and technology sectors.  The Ministry of Science and Technology was established in 1982 for the purpose of forming a national policy oriented towards science and technology, technological analysis and organization, and the coordination of research areas. The Ministry recognizes and emphasizes the importance of infrastructure research that will eventually lead to practical outcomes beneficial for the state, and therefore it supports scientific research projects that have a strong potential for commercial application.  The Ministry of Science and Technology aims to develop new technologies that will lead to new generation products in all areas, and thus focuses on academic research, industrial research, and government research.3

In an effort to ensure that future generations of Israeli citizens will be interested in promoting scientific and technological development, the Ministry encourages Israeli society, and its youth, in particular, through youth and society engagement programs.

For more about these programs: Click Here

The Israel Space Agency

One high-profile way in which the Ministry of Science and Technology has pursued its aims is by establishing the Israel Space Agency (ISA).  ISA propelled the Israeli aeronautics industry to new heights, and with the launch of Israel’s first satellite, Ofek 1, Israel joined the elite handful of countries capable of launching satellites. It has become a leader in building sophisticated small, lightweight satellites.

The ISA cooperates closely with both industry and academia.  Many contracts are awarded to companies to build and assemble satellites, plan and execute programs, and provide complex logistics.  The IAI Electronics Group, Raphael, and El-op Electro-optic Industries have all contributed to world-wide advances in space technology.  Raphael designed and produces one of the most sophisticated propulsion systems and El-op developed one of the best space cameras.  ISA also has a very close relationship with Tel Aviv University, where it established three knowledge centers to improve the advancement of technology and planning.  These centers focus on water and environmental information, cosmic radiation, and near earth objects. The ISA has recently begun an international collaboration with CNES of France to jointly work to design and construct a micro-satellite and ground station for scientific imaging processes.

Research and Development (R&D)

Since the establishment of the Ministry in 1977 roughly $180 million (at present value) have been invested in R&D, an average annual budget of around $7.5 million.4 Because the ecological diversity across different regions of Israel demand different resources, technologies, and attentions, the Ministry of Science and Technology, in collaboration with regional institutions, has created a number of regional Research and Development centers throughout the country. These centers both conduct innovative research appropriate to the particular area, and respond to longstanding local challenges.

Some of the regional R&D centers in Israel:

Beyond regional centers, Israel boasts approximately 1,800 R&D-based companies, including many new start-ups and software houses, which account for more than half of the country’s $20 billion export of goods. In manufacturing, at least 30 out of every 1,000 workers are engaged in R&D. Altogether, Israel devotes 2.3 percent of its GNP to civilian R&D.

International R&D Cooperation

In an effort to encourage contacts between Israel and overseas companies, and to facilitate joint ventures in R&D, manufacturing, and marketing, Israel has bilateral R&D cooperation agreements with the United States, Canada, members of the European Union, India and Singapore.  Joint ventures have been undertaken in areas including electronics, software, medical equipment, printing, and computerized graphics, with many actively assisted by these bi-national frameworks. These agreements have been cited as adding to the strengths of the Israeli firms in innovation and to those of the foreign firms in large-scale production and market penetration. The majority of these frameworks are coordinated by the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) in the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and are implemented by MATIMOP.

For more on Israeli bilateral cooperative frameworks:
Here

R&D in the Universities

Approximately 105,000 students are enrolled in Israel’s universities, with about 21 percent of all undergraduate students and 50 percent of all Ph.D. candidates specializing in the sciences or medicine. An additional 13 percent of all undergraduate students and 8 percent of all graduate students specialize in engineering or architecture. Over 80 percent of all publishable scientific research is conducted within Israel’s universities. Many of these university centers have established industrial firms through which they commercialize specific products based on their research, often in partnership with relevant local and foreign entities.

University research and development foundations, the first of which was established in 1952 by the Technion, are often responsible for the interaction between researchers and the industry, facilitating the commercialization of the innovative abilities and knowledge bases of the universities’ personnel.

Statistics show that relative to the size of its labor force, Israel has a significantly larger number of publishing authors in the natural sciences, engineering, agriculture and medicine than any other country, as well as a larger number of publications co-authored by Israeli and foreign scientists than any other country, indicating substantial international cooperation in scientific R&D.

Agricultural Developments

Scarce water resources, harsh land, and a limited labor force, have led to revolutionary developments in agricultural technologies. Research and Development is primarily sponsored and initiated by the Ministry of Agriculture’s research arm, which transfers results to the field for trial and implementation. Israeli agricultural research is considered among the most developed in the world along with its prolific agro-industry, especially in the fields of seed growth, green houses, irrigation systems, storage and quality control.6

Locally designed and manufactured computers have been developed to coordinate farming activities, including functions such as guiding fertilizer injection while monitoring relevant environmental factors, or supplying feed for livestock mixed according to tested least-cost/best-yield proportions. Additionally, Israel’s dairy cows are among the world champions of milk production with an average yield per cow per year of over 10,000 liters. Today, Israel is involved in agricultural advances which, it hopes, will make the sector as profitable as the electronics industry. This includes automated plant tissue culture, biological insecticides, disease-resistant seeds, biological fertilization and the development of biological pest controls.

Israel currently has a number of international agricultural cooperation agreements, including a significant agreement with Germany. This bilateral cooperation agreement deals with the development of water technology and resource management; research on the impact of global changes on the hydrological cycle of the Jordan River Basin; and the “Multilateral Project,” focusing on the hydrology of the Jordan Rift Valley. There is also cooperation with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority for the latter two initiatives.7

Irrigation

One of the earliest Israeli industrial innovations to reach international markets was the drip irrigation system, which is based on a concept that was pioneered in the 1890s by a researcher in California. In drip irrigation, water and nutrients are discharged directly to the area around the plant’s root system, so that much smaller amounts of water can be used most efficiently. This method also enables farmers to provide precise amounts of water at the rate required by different crops. Today, the system is computer-controlled. Drip irrigation has allowed Israel to develop one of the most efficient water systems in the world, a necessity, as it uses up virtually every drop of available water each year. Israel has also become the world’s leading producer of drip-irrigation systems, exporting them to Holland, Yugoslavia, Australia, New Zealand, the Far East, East Africa, and Central and South America.

Using, Saving, and Creating Energy

The Ministry of National Infrastructures acts to achieve maximum efficiency in energy management. The principles guiding the Ministry in its activity in the area of energy conservation are: non-damage to economic growth and non-damage to the level of energy services to consumers, through a complete technical, economic and environmental vision. The Ministry facilitates energy conservation through proposed legislation regarding energy consumption standards, demonstrating new technologies, and expanding communication about, and awareness of, methods and initiatives of energy conservation.

Extensive development of alternative energy sources such as solar, thermal and wind energy has been a positive outcome of Israel’s lack of conventional energy sources. Israel has become a leader in the solar energy field, with the world’s largest per capita use of solar water heaters in the home, and has made significant advances in harnessing wind energy. A recent project developed by scientists at the Technion uses dry air and water to produce energy through 1000 meter high chimneys.

The Ministry of National Infrastructure widely encourages actions related to energy conservation such as waste-heat utilization, heat and power cogeneration, biomass utilization, conversion to alternative energy sources and prevention of waste. Since 1980, a government regulation requires the installation of solar water heating systems in all new buildings up to 27 meters high. This accounts for 80% of all water heating requirements annually, and provides a saving to the energy market of 3% of primary energy.

For more on Solar Energy in Israel:

Industrial, Electronic, and Technological Development

Industrial research and development in Israel is primarily carried out by a small number of private firms, which have contributed significantly to industrial employment opportunities and Israeli exports in recent years. Over the past few years, electronics has emerged as the country’s leading industrial sector. In 1995, exports amounted to $4.3 billion, an increase of 15.5 percent over the previous year. Total sales in 1995 reached $5.89 billion and in 1996, passed the $6 billion mark.

Incubators: developing the industry

For many years, Israel’s industry was strong in research and innovation, but weak in finance and marketing. When the Office of the Chief Scientist was established, one of its tasks was to encourage the commercial sale of innovative technology. One way of doing so was through the creation of science-based industrial parks, often located near major university campuses. The parks provide initial services and facilities to carefully screened fledgling science-based industries. The government often provides investment incentives, loans, grants, and tax benefits to industries moving into the parks. Where universities are involved, the parks also benefit from the expertise of academic staff and from the advantages of joint purchasing of materials. Conversely, the parks’ industries often provide supplementary jobs and subcontracts for university faculty and graduates.

In addition to these parks, technological incubators were introduced in 1991 to encourage the development of innovative ideas by individual entrepreneurs, whose companies were too small or whose ideas were too risky to fit into the Ministry of Industry & Trade’s regular research and development program. The establishment of the incubators coincided with mass emigration from the former Soviet Union, which brought an estimated 65,000 engineers to Israel, many of them experts in their respective fields but lacking capital and experience with the workings of a free enterprise economy.

The task of the incubator, an independent, non-profit entity, is to assist entrepreneurs to complete their projects and turn them into commercially viable ventures. It provides assistance in recruiting R&D staff, performs marketing and feasibility studies, and provides physical facilities, professional and managerial guidance, and assistance in recruiting investment capital.

Today, there are 26 incubators throughout the country, in which over 200 projects are being conducted. More than 300 projects have already graduated from the program, including 173 which completed their goals and have continued on their own after the incubation period. Of these, 123 have signed agreements with investment, commercial or strategic partners, with capital investments ranging from $50,000 to $5.2 million. Virtually all the products are export-oriented, as the ultimate aim of the incubators is to increase Israel’s exports of goods - today some $20 billion annually.

Computer and Hi-Tech in Israel

Several hundred software houses throughout Israel account for annual exports of well over $300 million. Educational software is one of the newest and fastest growing fields. More than 20 companies produce programs for kindergartens that develop visual and reflective thinking, sense of color, optical orientation and basic mathematical concepts. Other developments include computer-aided language and math training for elementary and secondary schools. Products of Israel’s software houses also include computer-aided production engineering software for automated production systems and an automated data-entry program for creating advertisements.

In communications, Israeli R&D-based applications include the digitalizing, processing, transmitting and enhancing of images, speech and data. Products range from advanced telephone exchanges to voice messaging systems and telephone line doublers. Israel is also a world leader in fiber-optics, electro-optic inspection systems for printed circuit boards and thermal imaging night-vision systems. In addition, Israel produces robots designed to perform a wide variety of tasks, including diamond polishing, welding, packing and building.

Medical Developments

Biotechnology, biomedical and clinical research account for over half of all scientific publications emanating from Israel. Local scientists have developed methods for producing a human growth hormone, as well as a medicine effective in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Genetic engineering, including cloning, has resulted in a wide range of diagnostic kits based on monoclonal antibodies, along with other microbiological products.

Sophisticated medical equipment for both, diagnostic and treatment purposes, has been developed and marketed worldwide, such as computer tomography (CT) scanners, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems, ultrasound scanners, nuclear medical cameras, surgical lasers, and a miniature camera encased in a swallowable capsule used to diagnose gastro-intestinal disease.

Click Here-highlights of Israeli scientific and technological developments in 2005

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN ISRAEL: