The 29th Umbrella Symposium
Biology – The Next Generation
The convergence of engineering and the life sciences was the main focus of the Umbrella Conference, held at the Technion to mark 50 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany
A joint conference between the Technion and two prestigious institutions in Germany – RWTH Aachen University and the FZ Julich research center – was held recently at the Technion. The conference, held to mark 50 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, showcased the connection between engineering and the life sciences and examined a series of topics, including molecular biophysics, bio-substances and biosensors, tissue engineering and advanced methods for delivering drugs to the body.
Representatives of the three institutions said that the gathering promoted the development of a shared language and the laying of a foundation for future joint research. Gabriella Hermany, the science attaché at the German embassy in Israel, said that “Germany and Israel are connected to one another in a relationship like no other, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research Program creates wonderful opportunities for cooperation between scientists from both countries. The third generation in Israel is developing new interest in Germany, and I have no doubt that the connection between the three institutions will introduce new ideas to the Germany-Israel dialogue.”
The conference focused on the concept that the 21st century is the “century for biology,” in which the life sciences will become a multidisciplinary field that will bring engineering and the life sciences together. Today, 50 years after the discovery of Watson-Crick double helix (the structure of DNA) revolutions are still happening in the life sciences. Genomics and bio-informatics, DNA sequences and the ability to map the genome and make changes to it at relatively low cost – all these are paving the way for revolutionary research based on the same interface between engineering and life sciences. Thus new fields such as systemic biology, synthetic biology, computational biology and bio-informatics are coming into being. The Technion, as a leading engineering institute that also has a medical school, is an ideal site for the revolution to occur. The Technion is therefore constantly working to break down the barriers between the classic disciplines and create interdisciplinary research centers.
Prof. Wayne Kaplan, the Technion’s executive vice president for research, said at the opening of the conference, “I would like to commend the governments of Germany and Israel, which have great respect for these conferences. As scientists, we are accustomed to such international cooperative efforts, but for politicians they are not a given. As a materials engineer, I know very well that science requires chemistry, and the chemistry created at these conferences is very important.” Prof. Sebastian Schmidt of FZ Julich said that, “the relationship with the Technion is vital and productive. We came here to talk about science, but also about friendship, and I do not say this as a slogan – there is friendship here, around which the science relationships are being built, and we as scientists have the great privilege of traveling from one country to another and working with scientists like ourselves.” Prof Yoram Reiter, who heads the Lorry I. Lokey Interdisciplinary Center for Life Sciences and Engineering, said that the conference is the continuation of the successful conference held in Aachen a year ago, on the same subject. The Lokey center’s activities are based on a combination of engineering and the life sciences and the advancement of interdisciplinary research, which brings the most advanced engineering capabilities to the worlds of biology and medicine. This interdisciplinary convergence is a natural continuation of the Technion senate decision in 1969 to establish a medical faculty, in the understanding that the convergence of engineering and the life sciences is an essential stage on the path to the medicine of the future and the advancement of biology research. Thus the Technion was ahead of its time and ahead of the concept of convergence that typifies research today: less disciplinary isolation and more interdisciplinary research. The Lokey center was established in 2006, thanks to the generous donation by Mr. Lorry Lokey, and the center was headed by Nobel laureate Prof. Aharon Ciechanover.