Meeting the Challenge of the Desert and Spearheading IT

February 21, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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The president of Ben Gurion University and members of its academic staff have addressed meetings in Sydney on technology and water preservation.

Professor Amos Dror and Professor Rivka Carmi

Professor Rivka Carmi is the only woman in Israel to hold the position as president of a university. She met with members of the media, academics and IT entrepreneurs addressing them of the role BGU plays in the rapidly advancing world of technology in Israel at a lunch sponsored by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.

She spoke of the university’s role at a time when Israel is perceived around the world as a start-up nation in technology.

But she said the prime reason for the establishment of the university had been the development of the Negev. Ben-Gurion University is situated in Beersheba in the heart of the Negev. She spoke of the development of water usage and solar energy. Initially she said the university was founded on the basis of research into addressing the needs of the desert region and later  of similar arid conditions in other parts of the world. The university has now developed into looking at hi-tech projects and funding them internally to get them to the commercial stage at which industry takes over while retaining a working relationship with the university.

She said: “We are taking care of that gap which brings basic research to the stage where business becomes interested in investing in new technology. Our students are aware of both solutions and applications.”

Professor Carmi said that algae was very central in current research in the development of renewable energy. She talked about robotics and said the university’s advance in this area also had its roots in dealing with the arid land giving as an example date-picking by machines. She said that robotic research has now turned towards homeland security including cars submarines, aircraft that are not operated by remote control but by  artificial intelligence…operated by their own databases. She told the meeting that a robot jeep is now patrolling Israel’s southern borders. Space and surveillance technology are also developed at the university.

The bottom line as to why Israel is a start-up nation and an “ideas factory” is the acronym for the Hebrew word “worth”…”CDAI”, according to Professor Carmi. “C” stands for creativity  “D” stands for drive “A” for audacity and “I” for innovation”. Failure in Israel does call means you learn from your failure. You put failure in you CV”.  She said that young Israelis also benefit from military servo. At the age of 18, 19 and 20 they are trusted with responsibility and equipment and together with the combination of professional and leadership training adds quality to their creative and innovative talents.

She was accompanied by Professor Amos Dror.

In the evening, Prfessor Carmi accompanied Professor Pedro Berliner who addressed a meeting on water preservation hosted by the Jewish National Fund at Moriah College. The following is an extract from his address:

Water harvesting has been used already in ancient civilizations in arid and semi -arid regions. The idea is simple: collect the rainfall that was not absorbed by the soil (termed runoff), convey it to a lower lying area, store the water in the soil profile and plant crops or trees thereafter. Thus plant or tree production is possible in areas with random and small amounts of rain.

Professor Pedro Berliner

In the past decades KK”L has used this idea in order to plant trees in Israel’s Negev desert. Contour ridges (small ridges along contour lines) are built at certain intervals along a natural slope of the land. Each ridge collects the runoff generated in the area above it that has as its upper boundary the adjacent ridge (termed contributing area). Trees are planted just upward the collecting ridge. A properly designed system must supply the water necessary for the development of the trees. The generation of runoff depends on soil and rainfall properties and the total volume of water depends on the area between ridges. The main loss of water is by direct evaporation from the area in which water was stored and happens during ponding and continues while the soil surface is wet. The water available for the plants is the result of the balance between the above mentioned gain and loss. The maximum amount of water that can that can be stored in the soil profile depends on the soil depth and its water holding characteristics.

In order to design a contour ridge system all the above mentioned characteristics have to be quantified. Much attention has been devoted to the rainfall-runoff issue, and even though the process is not completely understood due to its complexity several relationships based on empirical data and on models have been proposed. Practically no attention has been paid to the water losses in such systems and how they are affected by the prevailing solar radiation regime and the physical soil characteristics. An indirect evidence of the importance of this issue can be gleaned by closely inspecting aerial photographs obtained above undulating terrain. A clear difference between the vegetation cover found on the northern and southern slopes is evident. Those with the north facing slopes being covered by a denser vegetation, this effect becoming more pronounced in arid regions. We believe that this phenomenon is related to the difference in available water within the soil as a result of enhanced water evaporation induced by the higher accumulated solar radiation on the southern slopes during winter time.


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