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30 June, 2021

Tali Mass (University of Haifa) and Paul Zaslansky (Charité University Hospital Berlin): 

Corals and teeth - research for bio-inspired materials

TM_PZ1.JPGEveryone knows that corals don’t have teeth. Many know that Berlin has no sea. Still, the science behind mineral structuring and biomineralization holds for both coral and teeth, and is the basis for an exciting, unexpected collaboration between the dental school in Berlin and the school of marine sciences in Haifa.
Tali Mass is a marine biologist working on biomineralization mechanism in corals while Paul Zaslansky, a dentist-materials scientist – focuses on applying advanced materials characterization methods to teeth. We had multiple conversations on applying structural analysis in our diverse fields of studies.

In 2018, aided by GIF Young Scientist Grant, Tali visited Paul's lab in Berlin. Despite the unlikely setting in a dental clinic and school, the visit rapidly led to sketching a range of studies and joint research questions, which opened the way for a long-term collaboration and friendship. Paul recalls a joint dinner, where Tali shared hints for easier ways for making top-class home-made hummus, prevalent in Israel but expensive and unimpressive in shops in Berlin. Scientifically, that visit led to two joint papers on morphological changes of corals in extreme environments. It also resulted in a joint materials science application and an award of a joint GIF grant at a time of immense grant uncertainty.

In the new project we examine structure-property relations of the Antipatharians, commonly known as black corals. Unlike stony corals, these creatures have flexible seemingly soft skeletons but they are extremely strong and able to withstand harsh living environments up to 2000 m deep. In this research we combine materials characterization expertise with ecological and biological expertise to understand the resilience and strength of the corals, while mapping fundamental information about the habitats of these ancient creatures. In December 2019 we initiated the project with a visit of Paul to the field laboratory in Eilat. Both teams traveled for 6 hours (some by car, some by direct flight from Berlin) during which the Haifa team hosted Paul in the labs and in underwater dives with Tali and her student. Observing the Antipatharia in its natural habitat, as well as the underwater and overwater surroundings, was the most perfect setting for a project kickoff.
TM_PZ2.JPGThe Covid19 pandemic cast heavy clouds on the ability of team members to directly interact. Heavy restrictions resulted in the inability to travel in either direction, though luckily regular online contact, as well as joint experiment planning and sample preparation did not grind to a halt. Synergistically, teams both in Israel and in Germany worked creatively to complete the first year of field and lab work and keep the project on track. In Israel Tali and her team completed the sample collection and characterization of the black coral at its nature habitat. In Germany, Paul and his team conducted electron and X-ray synchrotron experiments in the labs of the Helmholtz-Zentrum-Berlin (HZB), which were otherwise totally blocked for international travelers. However, excellent samples prepared by the Israeli team, and regular Zoom interactions yielded exciting, productive ‘mail-in’ experiments, much to the delight of the PI’s and the HZB leadership, all eager to move on with the science.


March 15, 2021 

Leeor Kronik (Weizmann Institution of Science) and Stefan Kümmel (University of Bayreuth):

GIF supporting Density Functional Theory and materials research – and German-Israeli

Igif_LeeorStephan_1.jpgn 2001, Leeor Kronik and Stephan Kümmel met as young postdocs at a meeting of the American Physical Society. Originally being “competitors”, as we worked on similar scientific questions, we realized upon meeting in person that there were future projects in which being partners instead of competitors could be fruitful – and fun. After we had returned to Israel and Germany, Leeor, who then had started his group at the Department of Materials and Interfaces at the Weizmann Institute of Science in December of 2002, and was aided by a GIF Young Scientist grant, visited Stephan and his Emmy-Noether Junior group in Dresden. Leeor found a thriving scientific scene and was impressed by the combination of old, new, and very new in Dresden. Scientifically, that visit ultimately led to a first joint paper on the electrical response of molecular chains. About a year later, when Stephan had accepted an offer from the department of Physics at the University of Bayreuth, GIF Young Scientists program came also to his attention. With GIF’s support, he established contact to several researchers in Israel, and had a chance to intensify his contacts to Leeor. He also visited Israel for the first time on the occasion of being invited to participate as a lecturer at a summer school in Safed that Leeor had co-organized. The workshop on Density Functional Theory was a success, and Stephan left Israel deeply impressed by how eager for knowledge the students at the workshop had been, how excellently it had been organized, and how much fun and how fruitful it was to do science in Israel.

Numerous visits followed, and the interaction increasingly became one between the groups, not just the group leaders. Two of Leeor’s PhD student spent several weeks working at the University of Bayreuth, and several of Stephan’s PhD students visited Leeor’s group at the Weizmann Institute for extended periods of time. In 2010, Stephan and all of his his group visited Leeor and his group at the Weizmann Institute for a joint workshop and in 2012, Leeor and all of his group visited Bayreuth for a joint workshop. The support from the GIF in the form of two grants in the regular program proved invaluable for allowing two generations of PhD students in both countries to get to know each other and work together. The joint research centered on the theory of electronic structure and dynamics, specifically on density functional theory. The fact that fascinates both Leeor and Stephan about this theory is that it has a clearly defined mathematical structure that is incredibly beautiful to explore, yet at the same time, it allows to access practically relevant problems and is one of the key tools for computational material prediction. Exploring how the power of a seemingly abstract concept such as a derivative discontinuity can be brought to unfold in range-separated hybrid functionals or meta-generalized gradient approximations, and can thus enable much improved in accuracy material science simulations, is still keeping them both busy and happy.
A personal memory (Stephan). On a morning during one of my first visits to the Weizmann Institute, I had gone to the office early and was working alone at a desk in an open-plan office. An elderly man in work clothing entered and started emptying the bins. In passing by where I was sitting, he looked at my documents. Stopping, he asked in a stern voice "Are you German?" I was surprised by the excellent English, and then, saying “Yes” and looking back at the old man who was looking at me firmly, an unhappy feeling what would be next set in. The awareness of the horror that Germans have brought to Jews became very present in my mind, making me feel insecure. However, the elderly gentleman started to smile, and then told me that he had visited Germany years ago and how beautiful he found the country. We chatted for a while, and at some point I dared to ask whether meeting Germans did not feel strange to him, given the bitter history that happened during his lifetime. He paused for a while, and then he said quietly "It must never be forgotten. But it has not been you." I was very grateful. And I have always felt welcome in Israel.

gif_LeeorStephan_2.jpgA personal memory (Leeor). On a visit to Dresden, Stephan and I went to see the newly refurbished Dresden Fraunkirche, a historical icon that was almost completely destroyed in the war. A particularly poignant moment for me was to learn that a significant portion of the funds needed for rebuilding came from the city and people of Coventry, UK, a city that suffered so terribly itself during the war. I do believe that we should and will remember the past, but I equally well believe that hope can triumph over fear and that the human spirit should prevail. That day was a beautiful demonstration of that.

​February 23, 2021 

Gilad Hirschberger (IDC Herzliya), Katja Hanke (GESIS, Mannheim), and Roland Imhoff (University of Mainz):

"Seventy Years Later: Historical Representations of the Holocaust and their effects on German-Israeli Relations​"

Hirschberger_Hanke_Imhoff.jpgFollowing a 2010 visit to Berlin, and some Holocaust research on Israelis, Gilad Hirschberger​ became interested in understanding how Germans and Israelis make sense of the Holocaust. In 2013, he contacted Katja Hanke and Roland Imhoff two German social psychologists that he hoped would provide some insight on this question. Katja had just published some relevant research on historical closure in East Asia, and Roland had done some Holocaust-related research especially on the desire among many Germans to move on and never look back at the past – Schlussstrich in German. After a few e-mail exchanges, writing a GIF proposal was the natural thing to do. The basic idea behind the proposal was that there is much variation in lay perceptions of history, and that both members of the victim group and perpetrator group attribute the collective trauma to different causes. In our research, we were interested in understanding a question that really has no sensible answer, but may nevertheless be psychologically significant: how Germans and Israelis explain the inexplicable – why did the Holocaust happen? Before posing this question to Israelis and Germans we decided to come up with our own causes based on psychological theory and research. We suggested that people may attribute the Holocaust to internal causes such as the belief that there was some inner evil in German society, or they may believe that Germans are obedient by nature and blindly follow orders. Others may attribute the Holocaust to external causes: they may believe that the Nazis used coercion and that ordinary Germans were forced to comply with Nazi policies against their will, and yet others may place blame on the social and economic conditions following WWI and the Versailles Agreement. We worked diligently to study top-down (theory-driven) and bottom-up (data-driven) attributions for the Holocaust, and eased the heavy atmosphere during our intensive meetings with nighttime fun. Our first meeting in Bremen included planning the first studies and enjoying the beautiful city. The second visit in Herzliya was dedicated to a labor-intensive process of studying the lay attributions people provided when we asked them why they thought the Holocaust happened. Plenty of work went into response coding and understanding the structure of these attributions. There was also no shortage of hummous, whisky, and Tel Aviv nightlife when the day ended. Our third visit was to Cologne where we worked on manuscripts and learned to drink Kölsch, the local beer. We also visited former Gestapo headquarters at the center of town and saw another perspective on how Germans today remember and understand the Nazi era. These meetings would not be the same without our amazing students and post-docs. Dr. Dennis Kahn, a Swedish Jew who immigrated to Israel, could not have imagined that this research would reveal buried treasures of his own family history. Mario Messer, a German graduate student served as a backbone for study implementation. Pia Lamberty, a German graduate student substituting during Mario’s paternal leave, became enamored with the Negev, and Slieman Halabi, an Israeli Druze, is now a graduate student at a German university. This project, generously funded by GIF, has not only produced several high-quality publications, but has taught all of us that collective trauma influences the descendants of both victim and perpetrator groups. Importantly, it showed that events that happened over 75 years ago continue to affect social and political attitudes today. Our findings resonate with William Faulkner's proclamation that "the past is never dead, it's not even past."​ ​ 



Ja​n​uary 14, 2021

Bruno Schelhaas (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography, Leipzig) and Haim Goren (Tel-Hai Academic College): Mapping the Holy Land


Schelhaas_Goren1.JPGThis is the story of Bruno and Haim, scientific partners, colleagues and (what is most important) friends since many years. It is also a story of a connection between two persons coming from different generations and with different cultural and personal backgrounds.
It was in 2009 or 2010 when we both developed the idea for a joint research project, and certainly, it was an advantage that we already knew each other since several years. Up to the Covid-19 pandemic, in every year Haim visited Leipzig at least once, and he is a well-known guest in the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography for many, many years, too. Furthermore, Bruno and Haim met regularly at international conferences, especially with the Commission History of Geography of the International Geographical Union, sometimes with joint paper presentations.
Haim’s German experiences, both familial and scientific, and Bruno’s expertise within history of geography and cartography with an archivist’s background, were a key reason for the following successful collaboration. The decision of the GIF board to fund our project Robinson, van de Velde, and German Holy Land Cartography in the mid19th Century (GIF Grant No: G 1057124.4/2009) was a great surprise for us. We are still happy and thankful about the approval; it was an acknowledgement of our scientific work and a great honor for both of us. In January 2011, we started officially the project work at TelHai College and at Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography. It was also a start of an intensive period of discussing and learning. After finishing the project, we both have a much deeper understanding of the German and Israeli scientific system and the varieties of international cooperation. Between 2011 and 2015, we realized several meetings, a total number of 15 visits, most of them in Leipzig, Berlin and Gotha, and especially three joint project workshops in Leipzig (May 2011), TelHai College (May 2012) and in Gotha (September 2013). Besides business and scientific discussions, these meetings mostly offered opportunities for archival work, for field trips, for encounters with experts and for social events, too. The two major project outputs reached a large public: the Gotha Map Week (2013), including the exhibition Das Heilige Land in Gotha, and the main publication Mapping the Holy Land. The Foundation of a Scientific Cartography of Palestine. (London / New York: I.B. Tauris 2017).
It is remarkable, that after finishing the GIF project two follow-up projects were designed, approved and successfully implemented. Haim Goren realized the ISF project Robinson and Smith, Generators of Change in Holy Land Scientific Study: New Considerations, documented in the volume “The loss of a minute, is just so much loss of life”. Edward Robinson and Eli Smith in the Holy Land (Turnhout: Brepols 2020). Jutta Faehndrich is still conducting the single DFG project Narrative, Aesthetic, and Cartographic Space around 1850. The Three Palestines of Charles William Meredith van de Velde (DFG 2016–2021), documented in the volume Als Künstler und Kartograph im Heiligen Land. Die drei Palästina des C. W. M. van de Velde. (Reimer: Berlin 2021). Both projects are based on the experiences, findings and results of the GIF project.
Scientific cooperation, friendship and visits in Germany and Israel, meetings at international conferences never stand still, now only interrupted by Covid-19 pandemic. The last meeting between Bruno and his family with Haim was in October 2019 in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with so much emotional and amicable moments. We look forward to meet personally again in safer and more pleasant environment.
Haim Goren and Bruno Schelhaas
Schelhaas_Goren2.JPG Schelhaas_Goren3.JPG


 December 17, 2020


GIF Grantees in Corona related research.

A recent activity report by GIF Grantees Professor Cyrille Cohen (Bar-Ilan University) and Professor Dr. Dietmar Zehn (Technical University of Munich)

Zehn_Cohen UT.JPG

The ongoing corona pandemic reveals the major challenge we are facing in preventing and treating viral infections. 

It also emphasizes the strong need to better understand i) how our immune system protects us against the majority of viruses we become exposed to, ii) why it fails in protecting us against certain pathogens, and iii) why the protective capacity typically declines with age. 

GIF Grantees Prof. Cyrille Cohen (Bar-Ilan University) and Prof. Dietmar Zehn (Technical University of Munich) investigate the biology of T lymphocytes - the main immune cell population that eliminates viral infection.

Within their joint GIF Grant, Prof. Cohen and Prof. Zehn are exploring mechanisms leading to failed immune-protection in chronic infection and malignant tumors.
Over the last years they have made several important contributions to understand cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive pathological immune responses (Utzschneider et al., Nature Immunology 2013, Immunity 2016, JEM 2016, PNAS 2019).
This included the identification of a key transcription factor (TOX) that attenuates T lymphocyte-mediated immunity (Alfei et al., Nature 2019). Meanwhile, there is preliminary evidence that this factor could also play a role in severe cases of COVID-19. Presently, they are planning studies to sustain these observations.

During the SARS-pandemic they were approached by oncologists, who operate a large outpatient clinic network (Prof. D. Hempel, Donauwörth). Together they systematically analyzed the prevalence of COVID-19 in the outpatient cohort, and found that, surprisingly, the rate of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 carriers among oncology outpatients was low compared to COVID-19 positive health individuals. Their findings in outpatients contrast reports of severe COVID-19 infections among clinal oncology patients. Thus, COVID-19 poses a challenge to a fraction of oncology patients while the cohort appeared resistant.
Since the decision on whether to start, continue or discontinue a tumor therapy has vital consequences for patients, Prof. Cohen and Prof. Zehn are designing a research project to find rational criteria for when oncology therapies can continue or have to be changed.
Moreover, the German-Israeli team is very interested in identifying the mechanisms that mediated the COVID-19 resistance in their cohort. They anticipate that this will reveal significant new insights to better understand the pathogenesis of COVID-19 and to rationally design vaccine strategies against the virus, and hope to gain funding support to explore these critical issues. 

In addition, Prof. Cyrille Cohen has been active on the "regulatory front" of the pandemics: He was appointed as member of the advisory committee of clinical trials for corona virus vaccines at the Israel Ministry of Health. As part of his duties in this committee as an immunologist, he has been helping with the national effort to evaluate and recommend the implementation of clinical trials to determine the safety and efficacy of novel Covid19 vaccines.​​​ ​​​​​​​​​

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