Sustainable Planet

Jerusalem Forest

Jerusalem: A City Surrounded Hills

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Jerusalem Forest


Shir Gilo loves Jerusalem – and she’s always looking for ways to make the city better. Better for its residents, better for communities, and better for future generations.

She’d always felt drawn to Jerusalem, and after moving to the city decided to enroll at the Hebrew University and pursue a BA in Jewish Studies and Hebrew Language. She began working for Tene Yerushalmi, a local leadership organization that connects young adults to the city of Jerusalem through learning, tours, and social and community involvement. It was a natural fit, as she’d always been a social activist. 

Within a few years, Shir realized that rather than advocate and protest, she wanted to be sitting around the table where decisions were being made. To this end, she decided to pursue a master’s degree, to take her career to the next level.

She chose Hebrew University’s master’s program in Urban Planning and joined the Urban Clinic. She’d seen the planning processes from the other side – working in neighborhoods and communities undergoing urban regeneration. She knew that planning was never just about buildings – it was about the people and communities that occupied the building. Building community, fostering trust, guiding processes – these were things Shir knew how to do, and did well.

During her studies, she began examining the history and role of Jerusalem’s open spaces, primarily to the west and north-west of the city. These unbuilt areas were intentionally designed to enhance the experience of ascending to Jerusalem – a city on a hill. The stark demarcation between the open spaces and the built environment made both more unique.

Today, Shir is the director of Save the Hills of Jerusalem, which is fighting to save precisely the open spaces she studied. Her confidence to lead this organization is largely thanks to her master’s degree. Besides gaining planning skills, her research took her deep into the historical record, as well as into meetings with contemporary stakeholders and planners.

As a graduate student, Shir went to Copenhagen on an exchange program, where she saw the difference good planning makes. Pedestrian-friendly streets, small shops on every corner, and biker-friendly trash bins – it was truly an eye-opening experience. 

“The Urban Clinic gave me tools to examine the build environment. I realized everything we see – someone planned it. And we can always plan differently. There’s no reason Jerusalem can’t be as bike friendly as Copenhagen. If we plan a dense city, with good public transport and prioritize pedestrians, we will have vibrant neighborhoods and reduce reliance on private cars. If we build up the existing city, there will be no need to expand Jerusalem at the expense of its beautiful open spaces.”

To read about Shir’s experience in the Urban Clinic, click here. 

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Sowing, Harvesting & Laughing Together

SP Ethiopian Farmers Alt Text

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6:40am. A minibus pulls up, and twenty-six Hebrew University pile in. Some are ready to go, while others are still half-asleep. Everyone aboard, the minibus heads westward. As the sun rises, the students begin to chat, half Hebrew, half English.

The minibus heads to the Joseph Marguleas Experimental Farm near the Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The group is a mix of first year Israeli BSc students and international MSc students. Once a week, they travel to the Experimental Farm to work alongside farmers who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia.

These farmers, aged 65-92, have been at their plots since dawn. Back in Ethiopia, they lived off the land, but this connection was broken when they moved to Israel. In 2016, Hebrew University Prof. Prof. Alon Samach offered plots to eight farmers, and the project took root. Today, the program has grown to include some forty farmers who tend to a variety of crops.

Once a week, the Hebrew University students work alongside the Ethiopian famers, as part of their degree program. In exchange for their help with the heavy lifting, the students gain hands-on experience. After tending to the crops, everyone comes together for a workshop.

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When Life Gives You Grapes

Roi Alford

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When Life Gives You Grapes

Roi Alford is a second-year graduate student in the Agriculture, Natural Resources & Environment program at the Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Roi grew up in the lower Galilee and has always loved nature. He was drawn to sustainability long before climate change was in the headlines, and thus pursued an undergraduate degree in biology. When he began exploring opportunities for graduate studies, he contacted Prof. Yael Mishael at the Hebrew University’s Smith Faculty.

From his first visit, Roi felt at home. The environment was welcoming, and the students and researchers immediately made him feel comfortable. Prof. Mishael’s lab works with nano-scale clay composites and polymers to remove pollutants from water; Roi is applying this technique to remove one particular toxin – Ochratoxin A – from wine and grape juice.

Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a naturally occurring toxin that is produced by certain molds, and it often plagues food. While a single dose is harmless, continued exposure may be carcinogenic and has been linked to kidney problems. In fact, current regulations ban anything more than the scantest traces of OTA in food. Since the toxin is capable of surviving pressing and fermentation, wineries are often forced to discard entire batches of grape juice and wine – wasting resources, time, and money.

Roi’s is working on developing a material that would filter out the toxin, resulting in a clean, healthy, and marketable product. One reason Roi’s work is so important is the apparent correlation between global warming and an increase in OTA – indicating that the problem will only get worse.

"The work at the Smith Faculty combines cutting-edge research and innovative thinking alongside the aim of making our world a better place. I feel lucky to be conducting my research in this environment. We were able to develop materials with the potential for industrial application, which would decrease food waste as well as improve public health."

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Developing Drought-Tolerant, High-Yielding Tef Varieties

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Muluken Demelie Alemu is from Debre Markos, northwest Ethiopia. He holds a bachelor's of science in Crop Production and Protection and a master's of science in Horticulture, both from Haramaya University. Muluken has taught and conducted research at the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research respectively.

Today, Muluken is a PhD student in Field and Vegetable Crops at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. His research aims to establish the basis for developing drought-tolerant, high-yielding tef varieties. Tef is a cereal crop, a major commodity in Ethiopia. To this end, he is growing a large collection of tef genotypes with differing amounts of water, currently in Israel and subsequently in Ethiopia. Muluken will collect and analyze morphological, phenological, and physiological data, as well as conduct DNA analysis to identify drought-tolerant tef genotypes and characterize the mechanisms underlying their superior performance.

"By developing drought-tolerant tef varieties, we will be able to enhance and sustain tef production and productivity. This will help to improve food security, nutrition, and income, especially for those living in drought-prone regions of Ethiopia and worldwide."

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Ravitejas Patil, India, MSc in Plant Science

Ravitejas Patil

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Ravitejas Patil hails from Bangalore, India, which is considered that country’s Silicon Valley. When deciding what to study, he decided against the mechanical and engineering fields, which he had encountered through his father’s work as an engineer. Instead, Ravitejas turned to the natural sciences, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad. 

In considering his next step, Ravitejas wanted to study abroad in order to broaden his horizons as much as possible. A friend living in Israel recommended the International School of Agricultural Sciences in the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

"Israel is a great place to study. The country was built and developed by such a small population, there’s nowhere like it in terms of technology and innovations."

Today, Ravitejas is working towards his MSc in Plant Science, studying how plants react to stress, namely drought conditions. His work is comparative; he studies differences between tomato varieties, including the commercially available tomato, a wild, desert variety, and lines bred by Prof. Dani Zamir.  

In particular, Ravitejas studies the plants’ phenotype, meaning their external characteristics. To this end, he uses the high-throughput physiological phenotyping system (patented by his advisor, Prof. Menachem Moshelion, and Prof. Rony Wallach) to carry out his experiments in the greenhouse, while also manually measuring traits such as a leaf’s water potential and osmotic potential. In this way, Ravitejas can understand how much water plants can hold and retain, as part of their response to drought.

Looking forward, Ravitejas would like to earn a PhD and return to India to put his knowledge to use. Many Indian farmers still employ traditional methods, due to an assortment of barriers to mechanization.

"I want to help famers in India maximize their yield. This means developing and implementing ways to get the best possible crop at the lowest possible cost."

The Coronavirus Shut-Down 

When the country went into lock-down mode, only students who were living on campus were able to access the labs and greenhouses. Ravitejas was one of two members of his lab living in campus. As a result, he was kept busy from morning till night, tending to and advancing his colleagues research – in addition to his own research, which had been scheduled to begin in March. Thanks to his immense efforts, his lab-mates were able to pick up their research and continue – as if nothing happened.

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Something in the Air: Serious Underestimation of Global Warming

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Photo by Sasson Tiram

EMET Prize-winning scientist, Professor Daniel Rosenfeld, of Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Herrmann Institute of Earth Sciences, has developed a satellite imaging method which has determined that the extent of global warming has been grossly underestimated.

Until recently, science was unable to quantify manmade responsibility for climate change, including that of aerosols and their effect on clouds. The new method “enables us to quantify climate effects on a global scope, provides a more accurate assessment of the processes affecting global warming, and reduces the uncertainty there is about climate change," remarked Rosenfeld. With his colleagues, Professor Meinrat O. Andreae from the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, Professor Zhanqing Li from the University of Maryland, Professor Paulo Artaxo from the University of Sao Paulo, and Yannian Zhu from the Meteorological Institute of Shaanxi Province in China, they discovered a new way to determine both cloud-base updraft speeds and quantify aerosol particles’ ability to create cloud droplets. Their new method used measurements from an existing meteorological satellite rather than conventional aircraft and ground stations.

Because current best predictions of global climate change have not had the advantage of this more accurate new satellite-imaging method  of measurement, Rosenfeld believes that using this new methodology “ will lead to more informed decisions with respect to the actions needed to counter global warming".  

Read more here.

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