January 8, 2012, Updated September 12, 2012

A much awaited groundbreaking initiative to reinforce the country’s scientific research community and keep top academic talent in Israel was inaugurated in Jerusalem on January 3. It’s called I-CORE — Israeli Centers of Research Excellence – and the government-funded project pledges to fuel Nobel-level breakthroughs in all scientific fields.

From left to right: Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, Chair of the Planning and Budgeting Committee, Council for Higher Education, Prof. David Gross, Nobel Laureate in Physics (2004), Prof. Roger Kornberg, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2006), Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar, heads of universities and Nobel Laureates gathered in the Jerusalem International Convention Center to toast the new program.

“So that we can continue producing Nobel Prize winners, Israel has once again made academic research a national priority. The I-CORE program will significantly boost Israel’s research capabilities and enable our researchers to continue leading the way to discoveries that will impact the lives of people everywhere,” said Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, Chairman of the I-CORE Planning and Budgeting Committee.

The initiative comes in the wake of a major brain drain in Israel – with young scientists being lured to foreign universities with offers of better salaries and multimillion-dollar lab equipment.

In its first-ever commitment to promoting academic excellence, the government allocated about $120 million to the creation of the I-CORE program. The total budget for the initiative is US$360 million.

I-CORE hopes to recruit top researchers, including Israelis currently affiliated with overseas institutions, with each researcher receiving a start-up grant and an annual research grant for five years.

Four I-COREs were inaugurated at the Jerusalem event, with the goal of another 16 being established over the next five years. The first four I-COREs will research: Renewable and Sustainable Energy (focusing on solar fuels); Molecular Medicine (focusing on genetic regulation of complex human diseases); Advanced Approaches to Cognitive Science (focusing on retrieved understanding ); and Advanced Topics in Computer Science (focusing on algorithms).

“Israeli researchers have been subject to severe budgetary constraints over the past decade. The I-CORE centers will fortify Israel’s capacity for innovation and multi-disciplinary synergy and serve as catalysts for scientific and intellectual progress the world over,” says Prof. Benjamin Geiger of The Weizmann Institute of Science and Chairman of the Israel Science Foundation Academic Board.

Future I-COREs will cover a range of disciplines in the exact sciences, life sciences and medicine, social sciences and humanities.

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