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Hossam Haick, making major strides in nanotechnology at the Technion 

Technion–Israel Institute of Technology Professor of Chemical Engineering and Nanotechnology, Hossam Haick on being an Arab Nanoscientist in Israel.

We have a tradition in the Arab sector that immediately after high school you go to university [unlike most Jews in Israel, who do their military or other national service first], without any experience in life, without any experience with science, or with what is going on in universities. Sometimes this is problematic, so I decided that I would not do it that way. I found work as a waiter. I worked in a fish restaurant for thirteen hours per day . . . and that’s when I started to see that home and school are very nice places! When you work, you interact with people, you start to see the conflicts—not from the news, but rather in reality. Those were the most useful years of my life.

We need to increase the number of role models in our society, otherwise we will not advance anywhere.
— Hossam Haick

Two years later, I started at Ben-Gurion University for chemical-engineering studies, and later took my Ph.D. at the Technion. And then I decided to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology. My wife and I spent two years in the United States, and then we faced a dilemma: Should we move back to Israel? We had several offers from leading universities in the United States to join the faculty. In terms of salaries, they could offer more than the universities in Israel, also social benefits, great students—everything was much better.

But after a lot of thinking, we realized that if a scientist does not translate his work to society, then he will not deliver the main message expected from a scientist. And we thought that our contribution to society could be much better in Israel, because we know the community here, we know the conflicts between Arabs and Jews, we know the difficulties of the students. . . . So we decided to come back to Israel, to the Technion. The Technion is of course a leading technological institute, and that was the main thing. But the added value is its location in Haifa, where there is a mix of Arab, Jewish, Druze, Russians, everybody. We thought that maybe, under the umbrella of science, we could help to make a kind of network among all these people.

On Mentoring the Next Generation of Arab-Israelis

Today, about 25 to 30 percent of my time is devoted to going into high schools and communities. When I do this, I am often asked: “How do you feel as an Arab in Israel?” These questions are not necessarily connected to my scientific work but rather to the social part of who I am. And I like to hear them, because I want to answer them.

The major thing I want to convey is this: in the Arab society, there is a belief that, as an Arab, you never can succeed in this country. You shouldn’t go for a Ph.D. or graduate studies, because you will not find any place to work. I try to educate the new generations, saying: Try to excel in what you do, in your studies. If you have truly excellent achievements, you won’t need to look for places to work; they will look for you.

I travel all over Israel, starting with the Bedouins in the South, up to the North. And I don’t focus my efforts only on Arab schools; every week, I give talks at Jewish schools, too. The Jews need a new role model, too.

With the primary school kids and with Arab Ph.D. students—I don’t teach them only about research in science and technology. I let them know they have to contribute to society at the same time. We need to increase the number of role models in our society, otherwise we will not advance anywhere, and the gap between the Arabs and the Jews will get even bigger. I am grateful for every effort that is done to raise the level of the Arab sector, because this helps the whole country. I am trying to change perceptions on both sides. We cannot make changes on one side only.

Learn more about Hossam's innovative work to sniff out disease.

Technion–Israel Institute of Technology > 

Nanotech superstar Hossam Haick

The Nanose device, developed at the Technion, analyzes breath in order to detect diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s, even in their earliest stages. Photo courtesy and copyright © LNBD Group

If there is such a thing as a science superstar, it might be Hossam Haick, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Nanotechnology, Technion–Israel Institute of Technology. Born and raised in Nazareth, he left Israel after receiving his Ph.D. to study in the United States for a few years; he then returned to the Technion, where he is currently a professor of chemical engineering and nanotechnology. 

By analyzing breath we can discriminate between different types of lung cancer, early stage from late, and most important, the benign from the malignant.
— Hossam Haick, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Nanotechnology, Technion–Israel Institute of Technology

Haick has been working on what he calls the “Nanose” since 2007. This remarkable device is designed to “sniff out” cancer and other diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, gastric ailments, and more. Haick is a respected and successful scientific researcher who has received major scientific awards from all over the world, and has managed to raise huge sums of money in support of his work. (“You can do nothing without funding!” he says.)

We know that disease has a pattern of molecules in the breath. If you can detect these molecules, then you can associate them with a given disease. Dogs have a very sophisticated olfactory system; it’s ten thousand times more sensitive than ours. The “Nanose” started out as an idea to try to imitate the olfactory system of the dog—exactly on the same principles—and to make real-world applications with it. One of these applications is to smell disease through the breath.

In our lab, we take the two main parts of the dog’s olfactory system, the receptors and the brain, and try to imitate them in an electrical way, using nanotechnology. The ultimate device is known as the Nano-Artificial Nose—the Nanose.

Initially, in clinical studies, we had success detecting advanced-stage lung cancer, and we published our findings. But very soon we realized that the most important application of this technology is early-stage detection—before the patient himself or herself is feeling the disease, which is usually not until the advanced stages. And even further: if you can predict whether a healthy person is at high risk to get cancer, you can begin taking preventive measures. So right now, we are working on detecting, with exhaled breath, whether a person is at risk to have cancer in the future.

Some advantages of our technology are that it’s portable, noninvasive, and faster than the CT scan. We can detect cancer even before you can see it in the CT. Moreover, by analyzing breath we can discriminate between different types of lung cancer, early stage from late, and most important, the benign from the malignant. And we can do it with a very high accuracy rate.

Ultimately, we want our device to be easy to use. In twenty years, we hope to have a device that is portable or can be integrated with a smartphone. And it should work. But the most critical part of this project is cost. So we are working hard to make the device inexpensive; we hope to bring it to the order of a few hundred dollars. Then it can be provided not only to hospitals but to family doctors and pharmacies where the tests can be part of routine examinations.

There are a lot of risks in this project. Inventive projects usually are risky. But we are taking these risky steps without going against the stream—and we are able to show results. We are advancing good science, which can help society.

Technion–Israel Institute of Technology > 

The “Nanose”: Sniffing out Diseases

Yeshayahu (Ishi) Talmon photo by Miki Koren courtesy Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

Yeshayahu Talmon is a chemical engineer and former director of the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute (RBNI) at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa. A frequent spokesman for the industry, he answers even laymen’s questions patiently and lucidly, and offers positive news about Israel as a “nucleus” for nanoscience.

Some Basics about Nanotechnology

Collaborations among the various scientific disciplines are crucial.
— Yeshayahu Talmon

Nanotech is all around us and inside us. Our cells are enclosed within membranes that are about five nanometers thick. Nanotechnology can involve either organic or nonorganic materials. Some of our foods have nanoparticles that are organic. Many of our body liquids—blood, for instance—have nanoparticles. 

Nanoscience is the science of everything that happens on that very small scale. Now, technology is being developed to take that science and apply it.

One example of applications we are working with at the Russell Berrie Nanotech Institute is carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are only one to two nanometers thick, but the single particle is extremely strong. And in some forms, they are very good electrical conductors, and they are lightweight . . . so in principle they could be the material of the future. However, in most cases, we cannot use them as single nanoparticles, so somehow we have to spin fibers out of them, and this is a challenge. (Sometimes, although it all works very well on a basic scientific level, when you try to make it into a process, things become more complicated.)

Another example of how the technology is applied is graphene sheets. Graphite, of course, is what you have in your pencil. However, when graphite is dispersed into single layers of carbon atoms, it has mechanical and electrical properties that can be used to make interesting coatings, like for touch screens, for instance. All touch screens now have some kind of conductors in them, and by using graphene, you can potentially make better, cheaper, longer-lasting coatings. In 2010, the Nobel Prize in Physics was given to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, two scientists working on graphene, so this field suddenly became even more exciting than before.

There is also a very important interface between medicine and the nanosciences, starting with intelligent, sophisticated sensors, all the way to drug delivery. At the Technion, we try to bring people from our faculty of medicine together with people from engineering and the basic sciences, in some cases to advise graduate students jointly, and to work on a medical or biological problem where scientists and engineers can help. Collaborations among the various scientific disciplines are crucial here.

The Technion’s Role in Nanotechnology

Israel joined the nano community early on. And the Technion formed the nanotechnology center in 2005, two years before anybody else here. I played a part in its formation, but the effort was primarily led by Professor Uri Sivan of the physics department, who was the first director of the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute. (I took over in 2010.) In a way, it was a pioneering effort not only for the Technion, but for the entire country, because it formed a model on which all the other institutes were formed, not so much in the structure, but much more in the emphasis and in the way they are supported.

We have recruited many new faculty members at the RBNI; each of them is excellent. Many of them spent a good number of years in the United States or in other places, but most are originally Israeli. There is a lot of talk about bringing back Israelis from abroad. We’ve had to lure them from places like Boston University, Stanford, UCLA—it’s competitive. And then, when they’ve made the decision to come to Israel, we have to compete with the other Israeli universities: the Weizmann Institute, the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and so on. Our government is trying to reverse the “brain drain” that we have experienced most acutely in the sciences, of course, because these are the people who are most sought-after by institutions outside Israel.

But there is a kind of “snowball effect”—although we scientists prefer to call it a “nucleation process”! Once you form a nucleus, it grows and attracts more material to form a crystal. Good researchers are attracted to a good nucleus. 

Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute >  

Technion–Israel Institute of Technology  >  

Further Resources: 
Israel National Nanotechnology Initiative >  

Nano Israel >  

Tel-Aviv University Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology >  

Weizmann Institute of Science >  

Yeshayahu Talmon on Israel’s Contributions to Nanotechnology