Israeli scientists are collaborating with counterparts in Singapore to develop new nanomaterials to enhance the efficiency of existing energy and water management technologies.

Israel-Singapore nanotech

The staff involved in the CREATE centers. From left to right: Prof Shlomo Magdassi, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Dr Su Guaning, President of Nanyang Technological University; Teo Ming Kian, National Research Foundation (NRF); Dr Tony Tan, Chairman, NRF; Dr Francis Yeoh, CEO NRF; Prof Shankar Sastry, UC Berkeley; Prof Robert Marks, Ben Gurion University.

About 14 hours of fly time separate Singapore and Israel, yet the two countries have much in common. Two prominent Israeli academicians, Hebrew University (HU) of Jerusalem Prof. Shlomo Magdassi and Ben-Gurion University Prof Robert Marks, look forward to spending a year on this island republic off the Malay Peninsula, in the framework of a five-year collaboration.

Magdassi and Marks are partnering with Prof. Ma Jan of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to head up a new research center focusing on energy efficiency, as part of Singapore’s National Research Foundation Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) program.

Scientists from the three universities will work together to develop new nanomaterials to enhance the efficiency of existing energy and water management technologies.

“The idea is to advance basic research on applied orientation to create licensing startups,” says Marks, a 49-year-old American-born biotechnology expert. “We’ll be trying to create and commercialize new tools to help clean and monitor the water better, and to harvest better energy and conserve it.”

Joint publications and intellectual property

The nanomaterials they will be synthesizing from inorganic materials such as carbon, gold and silver each possess properties that lend themselves to the realization of these goals. Nanomaterials are known to significantly improve efficiencies in energy harvesting and conservation as well as water recycling and sensing (using biosensors to monitor water for toxicity).

Applied chemistry professor Magdassi (56) says he and other HU researchers stand to gain much from the use of NTU’s advanced facilities and the exposure to additional and complementary technologies developed by their Singaporean colleagues. He tells ISRAEL21c that in addition to joint publications, it is hoped that there will be joint intellectual property resulting from the collaboration.

“It’s difficult to say when and if IP might come out of this, but since we’re 12th in the world in generating patents and making revenue from patents, it’s safe to say that it is likely to take place,” adds HU vice president for R&D Prof. Shai Arkin, who has been involved in initial planning with the National Research Foundation over the past six months.

From Arkin’s point of view, the project is first and foremost a boon for the individual scientists, giving them access to wider resources to pursue their dreams. “Their success is our success and vice versa,” he remarks.

No problems, just solutions

This will be the seventh CREATE center since Singapore launched the program in 2008 to bring together a cadre of international authorities on different topics. Dr. Ehud Razin, dean of HU’s faculty of medicine, is involved in another CREATE center studying the cellular and molecular mechanism of inflammation. Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is another research presence involved in the CREATE initiative, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California-Berkeley, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Technical University of Munich.

“Like Israel, Singapore is a small country with a small population and virtually no [natural] resources,” Marks points out. Accordingly, Singapore invests major funds in technology, education and research.

“Sustainability research is one of the leading areas of research in which NTU is making a name overseas,” says university president Dr. Su Guaning. “The collaboration with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem allows NTU to contribute our expertise in nanomaterials research to find solutions that increase energy efficiency and reduce water wastage for current technologies.”

Once the final CREATE center is completed next summer, all seven research centers will be relocated to a dedicated campus currently under construction adjacent to the National University of Singapore (NUS) University Town. Some 1,000 researchers will be working in the complex, including graduate students from the Israeli universities involved. Each of the team leaders will be obligated to be in residence at CREATE for 12 months over a five-year period.

Marks is enthusiastic about the staff involved from Singapore. “Everyone is very positive-minded, efficient and hard-working. Their approach is that there are never problems – only solutions to solve the problems.”