All

Jerusalem Forest

Jerusalem: A City Surrounded Hills

Read More
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. 

Read Less
Shir Gilo

Making Neighborhoods More Walkable

Read More
Shir Gilo

 

Shir Gilo first encountered the Urban Clinic when she participated in a public tour, and it left a great impression upon her. She loved how the Clinic connected theory with reality on the ground, integrating people’s lives with planning. Later, when choosing a graduate program, Shir found herself drawn to the possibility of combining theory and practice, developing social solutions alongside physical ones – and creating a better city.

She enrolled in the Hebrew University’s master’s program in Urban Planning and eventually took the Urban Clinic’s course. She decided to work on a project that had been proposed to the Clinic – developing a solution for Pisgat Zeev, neighborhood in northern Jerusalem plagued by morning traffic jams.

After some serious legwork, observing and meeting with stakeholders, it was decided to focus on two adjacent schools, where administrators and parents were committed to encouraging walking.

“There are many benefits to walking to school. The kids become more familiar with their neighborhood, it can be a social experience, they learn to solve problems, develop independence, take responsibility, get exercise, and so much more. Worldwide, it is common for students to walk to school, often in organized groups. There is no reason that Israeli schoolchildren cannot walk like their peers in Japan, England, and Canada.”

Shir, working with her classmate, Devora, got to work: They plotted student addresses in a geographic information system (GIS), in order to identify the best possible route for the largest number of students, avoiding steep inclines. They distributed a questionnaire and learned that some kids already walked, while other parents were interested in making a change. At the same time, they learned that the neighborhood had walking paths, but these were situated on side streets, often set back from the road.  

Ultimately, Shir and Devora identified three different walking paths – and suggested ways to improve each one. These ranged from physical changes (crosswalks, speed bumps), community adaptations (crossing guards, walking groups), and proposed regulations (speed limits, strict ticketing of cars parked on the sidewalk).

After such an intensive process, They submitted her proposals to Pisgat Zeev’s neighborhood planner. But Shir wasn’t done. She decided to write one of her seminar papers on encouraging walkability, specifically in hilly cities. Motivated to make an impact, she submitted her final paper to the neighborhood and regional planners, the Urban Clinic, and the Jerusalem municipality.

“The Urban Clinic is demanding; it sets very high standards. You can’t just sit back and learn – you need to work hard. Dr. Emily Silverman guided me every step along the way. It was, by far, the best experience I had at the Hebrew University.”

To read about Shir’s environmental work advocating for the Jerusalem hills, click here.

Read Less

Sowing, Harvesting & Laughing Together

SP Ethiopian Farmers Alt Text

Read More

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.

Read Less

When Life Gives You Grapes

Roi Alford

Read More

 

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."

Read Less

Ofer Levin of GTI: “The Beit She’an excavation open a window on another aspect of the past”

Photo by AG
Read More

" src="/profiles/openscholar/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" title="<--break-->">Beit She’an, a small city in Israel’s periphery with a population of some 20,000 and located in the north at the meeting point of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley, is known by many today as a site where infiltrations from Jordan used to occur. However, the name Beit She’an — the modern city was established in 1949 — has an illustrious ancient past that dates back to 4000 BCE and is mentioned in the Bible (I Samuel 31:10).

The ancient city’s location, amid fertile agricultural land and an abundance of springs in a mostly barren area at a then-international crossroads, meant that Beit She’an was a city of paramount importance in the biblical period and also later in the Byzantine period when it was the capital of the late Roman province which was known (circa 400 CE) as Palestina Secunda or NysaScythopolis. Today, the glorious remains of this forgotten past of the Roman and Byzantine periods — the Roman theater, mosaic floor, baths, colonnaded streets — are enclosed in the Beit She’an National Park and allow for a fascinating journey back through time.

The Beit She’an excavation project was initiated by the late Prof. Yoram Tsafrir who passed away in 2015. GTI Fund financial strategist Ofer Levin was a generous supporter of Prof. Tsafrir and his excavation, including towards the many years that he devoted to publishing the project’s final research reports.

Ofer Levin’s support for the project included providing the funds to locate and gather the relevant artifacts; and to recruit specialists to complete specific research of items such as ceramics, coins, inscriptions, engravings etc. In terms of publication, Volume 3A of this highly edifying project by Dr. Benjamin Arubas is currently in the advanced stages of editing; and the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archeology will be publishing an accompanying Qedem Report.

“The Hebrew University and its Institute of Archeology have been at the forefront of research in Israel for years. The Beit She’an excavation project reveals another aspect of the past and helps us gain a better and clearer understanding of the lifestyles of the ancient inhabitants of this country,” says Ofer Levin.

*Photo by AG

Read Less

Eliminating Services, Closing Boarding Schools

Stock photo
Read More

 

As the first shut-down went into effect, NGOs and national programs that serve at-risk youth were eliminated, including counselors, and social workers – leaving youngsters without anyone to turn to. Additionally, the first shutdown started right after Purim vacation, when many of the children, who study at boarding schools, were on break.

Confusion ensued. First, they were first told not to come back. Next they were told they could come back, on condition that they remain in their rooms, in isolation, for two weeks. As a result, many children decided not to return to school, remaining either in their at-risk homes or in the streets.

"I was removed from home and sent to a boarding school. But now the opposite is true – I’ve grown used to school and feel at home there, and you’re sending me back to the home that you removed me from."

-  R, 17 years old

The Rights of Youth at Risk Clinic, together with the Ramat Gan College of Law’s clinic, filed case in the Supreme Court against the Ministry of Education. Even before the hearing, the MoE announced it would ease restrictions and allow for more flexibility.

Read Less

Ending the Year on a High Note: The Street Law Project

Photo of lecture
Read More

The Street Law Project works with youngsters who have been convicted, as part of their court-mandated rehabilitation plan, as well as care cases – children removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. The year usually ends with a large production: a mock trial, written by law students and the teens and staged before parents, probation officers, other guests, and judges – members of HU’s Faculty of Law.

This past year, 45 youngsters were in the program, divided into three groups. They participated in weekly workshops run by students in the Rights of Youth at Risk Clinic on the Mt. Scopus campus. The Coronavirus struck just as they were scheduled to begin preparing the mock trial.

During the shutdown, the law students tried to maintain contact via phone calls or Zoom, despite the teens differential access to technology and the internet. Within each group, a core of participants continued meeting, yet the mock-trial was a lost cause. The clinic encouraged the students to think of an alternative project, to end the year on a high note.

The group of East Jerusalem youth, led by law students Hanan Hneif, Francis Tuma, and Mona Gawi, decided to focus on case studies. They divided participants into smaller groups, and each analyzed a separate scenario dealing with sexual assault, fraud, freedom of expression, or the penal code. The teens outlined how the law required them to act, their rights, and more. At the group’s final meeting, which took place on campus, each group presented their case study and fielded questions.

Hanan, Francis, and Mona also prepared a game show to summarize the year and distributed certificates. Each teen was given the opportunity to share how the program had impacted them.

Law students Smadar Laufer and Adiel Zanzouri led a West Jerusalem group of teens. They were inspired by a question they’d posed earlier in the year, both to their peers and the teens: How do you see the law? While students saw the law as a tool for empowerment, the teens saw the law as controlling and belittling. Thus, the students asked the teens to think of a law they disagreed with and develop a legal argument to support their position. The topics ranged from animal rights, the LGBT community, and the mandate to wear a protective mask. The teens gained experience applying the law in support of their own beliefs. The event took place in the largest auditorium, enabling parents to support their children while also socially distancing.

Read Less

Protecting the Rights of At-Risk Youth - In Times of Crisis

Shiran, Head of Clinic
Read More

 

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 3

 

In ordinary times, participants in the Rights of Youth at Risk Clinic offers legal aid and representation, run programs and youth centers, and advocate for policy reforms.

Yet these are not ordinary times. Without detracting from the Coronavirus as a public health threat, the pandemic has also claimed many social casualties. Some of its first victims were at-risk youngsters, whose already precarious position was further destabilized as Israel geared towards a shut-down.  During the first shutdown (March-May 2020), the Rights of Youth at Risk Clinic rose to the occasion - more than once.

Contesting Fines for Being Outdoors

During the lock-down citizens were required to stay within 100 meters of their homes. For at-risk children, home may be an unstable, unsafe, or even non-existent place. As a result, many of these youngsters were fined hundreds of shekels for being outside. Besides an utter lack of understanding of these children’s circumstances, these fines are astronomically high for families who may rely on public housing or cannot always afford food. Adv. Shiran Reichenberg, who heads the clinic, along with others helped approximately 25 children combat their fines. Six months later, they have heard nothing. Recently, the clinic filed an official request with the police demanding an explanation where things stand.

"We shine the spotlight on those children and youngsters who are otherwise invisible – Corona or no Corona. Yet today their rights are being violated more than ever, and they are in dire need of protection. The Clinic’s role is to protect these children and speak up on their behalf."

  - Adv. Shiran Reichenberg, Head of the Rights of Youth at Risk Clinic

To learn more about the Rights of Youth at Risk Clinic:

Read Less

Helping Connect Students to Remote Learning

Stock photo student computer
Read More

 

Over the last few years, the Clinic staff and students have been representing the children of a particular family in care cases (children removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect). Mere days before the lockdown, one the siblings was released from a psychiatric hospital, and he was determined to close educational gaps that had accrued. Within days, schools transitioned to online learning, but he lacked a computer through which to connect to his teachers and lessons.

Arielle Elkayam and Tair Atias, two law students familiar with the family, decided to help find a computer. They tried everything: the municipality, the family’s social worker, the Department of Welfare and Social Services – nothing. They tried every telephone number and email address associated with the public-private partnership A Computer for Every Child – nada.

Eventually they succeeded. A large high-tech company was donating old computers to needy students, and one reached Arielle and Tair’s client. But their search led them to realize that the Coronavirus had transformed unequal access to technology into unequal access to education. Thousands of Israeli children couldn’t realize their right to an education – and the State was unable, or unwilling, to step in.

The enormity of the challenge didn’t faze them. If anything, Tair and Ariel were even more determined to raise awareness and advance solutions. Together with a Hebrew University social work student named Zohar Galil, they are taking a two-fold approach.

First, by helping the Tamid Project – which was, at the time, one of the only organizations in Israel addressing this need. Run by Jerusalem teenagers who established the non-profit when they were 13, they have collected, refurbished, and distributed over 5,600 computers to needy families. The law students helped publicize the Tamid Project, including a visit to the Knesset and bringing local and national politicians to volunteer with the project.

Second, Ariel, Tair, and Zohar continued researching and collecting evidence of the problem with hopes of influencing policy. They discovered that the most comprehensive document submitted to the Knesset had been written by a University of Haifa legal clinic, which had also petitioned the Supreme Court on this matter, along with the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. The Hebrew University trio contacted the petitioners and shared everything they’d discovered about the scope of the problem in Israel and comparisons with other countries.

"We truly felt that we were implementing our clinical studies, bridging between the written law and the law in action. When we realized that many European governments spent tens of millions of Euros at the outbreak of the pandemic, while the Israeli government didn’t even have a plan, we knew we had to help ensure equal access to education. Thanks to the efforts of many, many people, the government now realizes the scope of the problem and is working to resolve it. We’re glad to have helped raise awareness, including providing information to the court petitioners."

- Arielle Elkayam & Tair Atias

Read Less

Piecing Together the Puzzle: A New Protein-Based Treatment for the Coronavirus

Corona Research Ofer M
Read More

 

Prof. Ofer Mandelboim is an immunology and cancer researcher at the Faculty of Medicine. His usual areas of interest include studying how viruses manage to evade detection by the immune system, including influenza, CMV, HIV/AIDS, HMPV, and more.

Very early in the pandemic, scientists discovered that the Coronavirus expresses spike proteins that bind to receptors (proteins) found on human lung cells – scientifically known as ACE2. After entering the cell, the virus uses human cells to replicate and spread, leading to symptoms (e.g. coughing) and the infection of additional patients. 

Pieces of a Puzzle

It is helpful to think about viruses, receptors, and our immune system as pieces of a puzzle. Each virus has a specific shape, enabling it to exclusively bind with certain receptors. On the flip side, our immune system develops antibodies that are a perfect fit against the viruses and other pathogens it encounters, blocking their ability to infect our bodies.

Prof. Mandelboim is familiar with ways to employ decoy proteins to protect patients from autoimmune diseases and decided to tackle SARS-CoV-2 using the same approach. Along with PhD students Abigael Chaouat, Inbal Kol, Orit Berhani, and a team of researchers from the Israel Institute of Biological Research (IIBR), Prof.  Mandelboim developed a two-part preventative treatment comprised of soluble proteins.

1) The first part is composed of the extracellular part of ACE2. This protein binds with the spike proteins of the Coronavirus, rendering them incapable of binding to the lungs and infecting our cells.

2) The second part binds to the ACE receptor, thereby preventing the virus from infecting the cells in our lungs.  

Working with the IIBR, Prof. Mandelboim tested this treatment on cell cultures, and then on transgenic mice – using live Coronavirus. (The mouse ACE2 does not interact with the coronavirus spike protein and thus mice cannot be infected. Transgenic mice expressing human ACE2 have been developed as a rapid platform for research. In mice, infection inevitably leads to death). Prof. Mandelboim and his team, together with the IIBR, tested the components separately and combined. Between the two of them, the injected spike protein (blocking ACE2) was more effective, with a survival rate of 50%.

A Whole New Approach

This treatment is not a vaccine, because it does not activate the immune system to generate antibodies. Instead, it is a cure, because the proteins can hinder the spread of the infection and ultimately inhibit disease progression. It is an entirely new approach, which might prove an effective stopgap measure to simply halt the spread of the Coronavirus. Given that Prof. Mandelboim’s treatment is comprised of the actual proteins from our body and virus, it is probably safe to inject. Yet this is precisely the reason why the proteins and their production process cannot be patented – they are entirely naturally occurring.

"Looking ahead, the biggest challenge is mass-producing these proteins and beginning human trials. Both these are outside my scope of expertise, but I’m extremely hopeful because I’ve proven an easy, safe method of protection against Coronavirus infection."

Read Less

Developing Innovative Methods for 3D Printing

Omri R
Read More

 

Omri Rulf is studying towards a Master of Science in chemistry at the Hebrew University. As an undergraduate student of materials engineering, he explored 3D printing with conductive materials – research that left him hungry for more advanced challenges. 

At the Institute of Chemistry, Omri joined a laboratory that studies the application of organic and inorganic materials to the fields of 3D functional printing, solar energy, and bio-medical systems. 

Omri’s research focuses on developing new inks that can be used in digital light processing, a method of 3D printing that is activated by light. Current methods use photo (light) initiators, which are less healthy for medical purposes. Instead, Omri’s inks use thermal initiators, resulting in a healthier product.  

"My research is progressing nicely, and we’ve already achieved a proof of concept. I’m excited to be at the forefront of such an innovative field, knowing that my research will be applicable to bio-printing, drug delivery systems, dentistry, and more.

Read Less

Social Isolation & Our Brains

Coroa Research Shahar
Read More

 

Dr. Shahar Arzy is a cognitive neuroscientist at the Faculty of Medicine and a cognitive neurologist at the Hadassah Medical Center. In the time that has passed since the outbreak of the pandemic, two things have become clear: First, the Coronavirus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and even the much-anticipated vaccine may not be a silver bullet. Second, future pandemics may force us back into a Corona-era lifestyle. In Dr. Arzy’s eyes, the most significant change has been the physical distancing from other people, and especially loved ones, and, in particular, the social isolation of the elderly, chronically ill, and immunosuppressed.

"We know that certain populations are more susceptible to the Coronavirus. Yet in an attempt to physically protect them from disease, we’ve isolated them from their social support networks: their friends and families. This is especially true for retirees, whose social lives largely revolve around seeing people outside of their homes, and those suffering from cognitive impairments, who need external stimulation."

Me, Myself, and I – And Everyone Else 

Dr. Arzy and his team at the Neuropsychiatry Lab at the Hebrew University set out to understand how to best help these vulnerable populations. In the lab, the researchers (including computer scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and clinicians) use functional neuroimaging (fMRI) and computational methods to understand the ways in which the brain identifies others in relation to the “self.” For example, in a study led by Dr. Michael Peer, then a PhD student in the lab, they used an algorithm to map subjects’ Facebook friends and then studied how the brain codes our social network, each friend’s proximity to our “self,” and each friend’s characteristics. 

In the context of the Coronavirus, Mordechai Hayman, a brilliant electrical engineer and an MD-PhD student in the Neuropsychiatry Lab, asked how the brain interprets “social proximity.” He defined four groups and raised hypotheses of different ways in which they could be organized around, and in relation, to the “self.” 

1) The “self” 
2) Our closest circle of friends & family
3) Acquaintances (based on the notion that we evolved to live in groups of ~150 people, with whom we cooperate and rely on for our physical, social, and psychological needs)
4) Celebrities (a stranger with whom we feel close) 

In the study, subjects performed a number of social tasks while undergoing fMRI scans. Analyzing the results with machine learning techniques, the researchers discovered two interesting things. First: our brains perceive celebrities as the farthest from our “self” and the real people in our lives (close friends and acquaintances), despite the ease at which we “connect” with celebrities through headlines and social media. Second: while asked to imagine different people in our lives, our brains made little distinction between significant others and acquaintances.

"The fMRI scans showed that our brains cannot be fooled – celebrities serve no social purpose in our lives and cannot be a stand-in for a social network during shutdowns. On the other hand, in certain aspects, our brain treats everyone we actually know similarly – regardless of the degree of involvement in each other’s lives."

Tools for Coping with Social Isolation  

Today, digital platforms such as Zoom are heavily relied upon to socialize. Yet with all the advantages that technology brings to our life, it simply cannot replace real-life encounters. The most significant finding to emerge from Dr. Arzy and Mordechai Hayman’s study is the importance of all social ties, whether a neighborly check-in or chatting with an acquaintance at the grocery store. Another way to help combat social isolation is through tangible, 3D objects. For example, a grandchild’s art project can have a powerful impact – even if delivered by mail. 

At the same time, given the prevalence of digital platforms and their immense potential for connecting people, Dr. Arzy aims to identity ways to tweak and improve these platforms, to optimize and monitor social engagement. 

There’s an App for That 

Dr. Arzy’s previous research on Alzheimer’s patients led him to develop a digital application that enables the mapping and quantification of social networks. The group is now working on creating a more extensive product, one that analyzes one’s social network while taking into account the proximity of family, digital skills, nature and frequency of contact, and more. This product will help remind members of a given network when and how to reach out, resulting in an optimized, tailor-made communication plan – based in the social ecology of the person in the center.

"The Coronavirus has disoriented our lives, and we all face insurmountable difficulties. Yet let us not forget those for whom disorientation is part and parcel of their daily lives. At the Hebrew University and Hadassah we have the privilege to be able to help these people through our clinical practice and research. We hope our efforts can contribute, even a little, to the well-being of these vulnerable population, now more than ever."

Read Less

University Students and the Coronavirus Pandemic

University Students
Read More

 

Prof. Miriam SchiffProf. Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, and Prof. Emeritus Rami Benbenishty study trauma at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare. They belong to the Resilience Research Group, which Prof. Pat-Horenczyk heads, and have a long history of collaborating. Therefore, it was a natural decision to conduct a joint study on the consequences of the Coronavirus crisis upon Hebrew University students, exploring their resilience and growth.

Their first study was conducted during the peak of the first wave. One aspect of the study focused on stress associated with media exposure to the Coronavirus, and revealed that media exposure and media-related stress can be perceived as possible risk factors for impaired functioning and coping. It has been submitted for publication.

"University students are not usually seen as a vulnerable group. But between losing their jobs, having their study routines and habits upended, not seeing their friends on campus, and many of them moving back home, students have been subjected to a variety of factors that may contribute to stress and difficulties in their functioning, education, and familial relations."

Close to Home: A Survey of Hebrew University Students

At the same time that the researchers were preparing their study, Hebrew University Rector, Prof. Barak Medina, and the Dean of Students, Prof. Guy Harpaz, contacted the researchers – to hear how students were coping and identify students who needed help. They opened the door to a University-wide survey, in which 4,700+ Hebrew University students across faculties and disciplines participated.

The study revealed the students’ pressing concerns. Their top three concerns were when the emergency situation would end, the virus’ rapid spread, and restrictions to their daily lives. On a personal level, students were worried about their families, financial matters, and loneliness. Yet despite these concerns, the more support the student received, the better they were able to cope.

"It is a badge of honor for the Hebrew University that students supported the University’s Coronavirus policies, much more than national or governmental policies. This may be due to the fact that these policies were tailored to their specific circumstances, while the University also reached out to offer academic, emotional, and financial support."

Interestingly, while Arab students and students in quarantine emerged as especially vulnerable, students who self-identified as either ultra-Orthodox or parents were more resilient.

Based on their findings, the researchers recommended creating a University support system to help address students’ emotional and academic needs, while taking steps to ensure that the students continue to have faith in the University’s policies.

Expanding the Study: In Israel & Abroad

This study inspired colleagues around the world, who have adopted and disseminated the Hebrew University researchers’ questionnaire among university students in Europe, South America, and the United States. They have already published a comparative study with Ukraine. The questionnaire has also been used at research universities and academic colleges across Israel. 

The researchers are now conducting a second-stage study in conjunction with other research universities in Israel. To date, they have collected 14,000+ responses. Given the amount of time that has lapsed since the pandemic’s outbreak, its cumulative effect, and long-term consequences, the second-stage study will be expanded to include attitudes towards dropping out, emotional difficulties (e.g. depression and anxiety), coping, and personal growth.

"Although many students report emotional difficulties, many reported receiving support, trusting the university’s handling of the crisis, and showing growth under these difficult circumstances. We hope that by shedding light on the risk and protective factors that relate to the students’ ability to cope and their self-reported need for help can guide the development of appropriate support services."

 

Read Less

Renana Atia, Communications

Renana Atia
Read More

 

Exploring Questions of Representation and Stereotypes

Renana Atia is a doctoral student in the Smart Family Institute of Communications at the Hebrew University. She was educated in both ultra-Orthodox and National Religious schools, and later completed her national service working with people from diverse backgrounds. 

Moving between different worlds, Renana has always been interested in questions of representation – specifically, how the media (mis)represents  certain groups (e.g., women, religious communities). She chose to study political science and communications at the Hebrew University, hoping to gain practical skills for creating social change. Yet early in her studies, she was drawn to research, as she discovered the importance and joy of methodologically studying social issues. By the end of her first year, she had decided to pursue a graduate degree.

Renana eventually earned a master’s degree in political communication with a minor in gender studies at the Lafer Center for Women and Gender Studies. At the same time, she began working as a teaching assistant for both undergraduate and graduate courses. Beyond gaining and honing her own teaching skills, Renana was thankful for the opportunity to help shape and guide the younger students in their own academic journeys.

Today, Renana is a doctoral student, conducting research under the supervision of Dr. Meital Balmas-Cohen and Prof. Eran Halperin.

"I study the cognitive motivation necessary for changing perceptions of stereotypes, and the possibility that individuals who do not adhere to stereotypes may contribute to minimizing inter-group tensions."

Her research will employ quantitative methods and be rooted in data from  several countries, including Israel, the United States, and Germany. Renana greatly enjoys her studies and is particularly thankful for the Faculty of Social Sciences' support, which ranges from lectures on publishing, assistance editing English texts, and information about post-doctoral opportunities.

Outside of her studies, Renana practices archery and is involved in an organization that aims to increase women’s participation in the sport, including women who are either at-risk or come from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Looking forward, she hopes for a career that combines research and teaching.

"The Hebrew University, and in particular the Faculty of Social Science, have provided me with amazing support, while also granting me the freedom to conduct my doctoral research. The Hebrew University has never ceased to challenge me.

Read Less

Novel Sugar Substitutes

Strawberries and Sugar
Read More

 

Dr. Amiram Goldblum is a Professor Emeritus of Computational Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem School of Pharmacy - Institute for Drug Research. Among his many discoveries is his unique, prize-winning algorithm, Iterative Stochastic Elimination (ISE) (see box). While ISE has been used to rapidly identify potential drugs, it can also be used to identify other useful chemical substances – such as sugar substitutes.

Ah, Sugar Sugar, You’ve Got Me Wanting You

Worldwide, diabetes is on the rise. The number of diabetics nearly quadrupled between 1980 and 2014, affecting 422 million people. In addition, diabetes often causes other ailments, including kidney failure, blindness, heart attacks, strokes, and more.

As early as the late 1950s, and rapidly increasing in recent decades, artificial sweeteners appeared on the market. Generally speaking, these can be divided into three chemical “families”: peptides, sulphonamides, and saccharides/glycosides. Despite their chemical differences, they are all much sweeter than sugar, while also leaving a bitter aftertaste.

Sweets for My Sweet (Receptors)

We can taste sweetness thanks to the presence of TAS1R2/TAS1R3 proteins in our bodies, mostly on our tongue and mouth. A similar protein transmits the umami (savory) flavors, and it is entirely possible that sugar and sugar substitutes also transmit their effect through these receptors. In addition, twenty different proteins can sense bitter tastes, and it is assumed that some of them may cause the bitter aftertaste associated with substitute sugars, despite the different structures of the “bitter taste” proteins.

To solve this problem, Prof. Goldblum has constructed computational models that are capable of distinguishing between sweet, umami, and bitter tastes, and then screens millions of commercially available molecules through these models,, searching for those that will affect the sweet receptor alone (and not the bitter receptors).

"By identifying molecules that resemble sugar’s sweet taste but without its negative and dangerous impact on our health, I hope to both offer consumers a better product, while also contribute to the reduction of diabetes worldwide."

          - Prof. Goldblum

Once detecting these molecules, Prof. Goldblum will take his findings to the lab, along with a partner from the Technion. They will test the best molecules on mice, examining whether they prefer the substitute or the real thing, as well as the effect of both real and sugar substitutes on their movements, energy expenditure, and metabolism. Needless to say, mice will not have the final say – after all, they taste sweets differently than humans.

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

The first step towards FDA approval is filing an application for an investigational new drug. The molecule will be tested on a small group of healthy people to determine it is not toxic in several dose alternatives. Once approved, a panel of taste-testers will help determine the exact quantity required to obtain the same sweetness as a spoonful of sugar. The new molecule will likely be measured in milligrams, compared with the packets commonly found in restaurants and cafes, which contain 2-4 grams of sugar.

It is not hard to imagine the wide-spread market appeal of such a product. With diabetes on the rise, a reduction of sugar consumption has the potential to save and improve the lives of millions worldwide. Luckily for those with a sweet tooth, dieting may never be easier.

Information about Prof. Goldblum’s research on potential drugs for the Coronavirus is available here.

ISE is a generic algorithm capable of solving extremely complex combinatorial problems, such as finding the best solutions to a problem which has an enormous number of possible solutions that are not amenable to full examination by any means. The algorithm examines many possibilities and rejects possibilities in several “rounds,” until the number of combinations is small enough to be fully computed. The significant advantage of this computational tool is its ability to suggest in silico (computerized) good solutions in a very short time, which would be impossible to perform in the lab. For drug research, it has already shortened the time for discovering new candidate drugs from years to months, and even weeks. This innovation earned him the Hebrew University’s Kaye Innovation Award for 2017.
Read Less