At 70, Celebrating Israel’s Giving Spirit

Put yourself in the shoes of a busy college student—preoccupied with academics, extracurriculars, a social life, and coming into your own as a young adult. Then, imagine bringing an untrained puppy literally everywhere you go. Whether you are walking around campus, riding the bus, attending class, studying at the library, working at a student job to help pay off your loans, or trying to relax in your dorm, the responsibility is inescapable. The puppy comes with you everywhere. Nevertheless, you persist with training the puppy for more than a year.

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This is the responsibility that 20 students at the Technion sign up for every year, as part of a program to adopt and train guide dogs for the blind. The students receive instructions on how to train guide dog puppies at home, on the street, and in crowded public areas. The training lasts for a year and a half and the students invest countless hours, and yet they stay focused on their ultimate goal: providing greater independence to blind individuals in society.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this program is how unremarkable it is for the Technion, where the spirit of Tikkun Olam – a commitment to making the world a better place – animates virtually every student, professor, program, and initiative.

As we marked the milestone of Israel’s 70th Independence Day this month, I found myself thinking about this giving spirit, which is at the heart of the Jewish state’s history. This story is told powerfully by author Avi Jorisch in his recent book “Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World,” which uncovers how tiny Israel has had an outsized impact globally through a selfless approach, aspiring to a purpose that is larger than itself.

Selflessness is intimately woven into the fabric of Israel, which has fought for survival every day for its 70 years of existence—and responds to this challenge not through self-pity, but instead by empathizing with countries and people in need worldwide and assuming the crucial responsibility of repairing the world.

Rather than using its ingenuity exclusively to solve its own crises and to improve life for its own citizens, who face well-documented challenges, Israel plays a disproportionate role in helping solve some of the world’s greatest problems. When there is a devastating earthquake in Nepal or Mexico, a hurricane in Puerto Rico or Houston, or any other major natural disaster, Israeli first-responders are always among the first international aid workers on the scene—from thousands of miles away, even as turmoil rages in the Jewish state and the Middle East. With the drip irrigation, reclamation and desalination technology it developed to solve its own water shortages, Israel helps California tackle its droughts. Israeli solar energy is literally a light unto the nations in Africa, bringing power to hundreds of rural villages that are off the grid.

Israel’s game-changing innovations are born at the university level through research and cultivating future leaders, and the Technion is leading the revolution. The Technion has pioneered a unique educational model that runs on a parallel track to its home country’s rising global influence. Through an interdisciplinary research approach and the operation of cutting-edge research centers, the Technion supports the people, ideas, and inventions that make immeasurable contributions to Israel and the world through life-saving medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation, space, nanotechnology, and more.

Just like Israel, the Technion is selfless and does not confine ingenuity to its own boundaries. Through expansive overseas partnerships, the Technion shares and exports its innovation. The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech in New York City combines the Technion’s professors, research, and resources and entrepreneurial know-how with Cornell University’s renowned reputation in engineering and computer science. This partnership results in groundbreaking academic programs such as the Technion-Cornell dual master’s degree in Health Tech, which teaches students to create applications to promote healthier living. The Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology, meanwhile, trains an elite group of scientists and engineers who are working together to create solutions for the pressing environmental challenges faced by China and the world as a whole. Such efforts are not about financial gain. They are about improving lives.

From New York to Israel to China and many places in between, the Technion is bursting with ideas and activities that support a better world.

So, next time you observe someone relying on a seeing eye dog to enjoy the spring weather, to cross a street to the bakery, or to attend a concert, think of the Technion, and think of Israel. Think of our commitment to continue this momentum for the next 70 years—and beyond.

Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month: Technion Takes Crucial Steps in the Fight Against Cancer

In the pursuit of game-changing innovation and solutions to the world’s most serious problems, it is important to remember that every step counts. That is the spirit that comes to mind as I reflect on Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month, which the U.S. observes each March.

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Technion Distinguished Professors and Nobel Laureates Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover

The Technion has been a key player in fighting Multiple Myeloma—the second most-common blood cancer. Velcade®, a successful drug for treating Multiple Myeloma, is based on the discovery of the ubiquitin system (the body’s way of disposing of unwanted proteins) by Technion Distinguished Professors Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover. Their decades working to identify elements of the ubiquitin system earned them the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and is the perfect example of a major breakthrough on the road to curing cancer.

Finding a cure for cancer is often bandied about as the quintessential example of a lofty goal. Ambition, patience, and persistence are all crucial components shaping the mindset of the thousands of doctors and scientists at the Technion who perform the research that moves scientific progress toward this objective. Even if the research doesn’t go as far as curing cancer today, the next generation can capitalize on their advancements and inch closer to accomplishing “mission impossible.”Professors Hershko and Ciechanover’s discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation has been a key step in discovering how diseases such as cancer develop and progress. Still, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be more than 1.7 million new cancer cases diagnosed as well as more than 600,000 cancer deaths during 2018 in the U.S., whose population is about 327 million.

The Technion remains undeterred by the magnitude of this challenge. Just last month, Technion researchers achieved two new breakthroughs that could transform cancer treatment.

Synthetic cell produces anti-cancer drug

Technion Assistant Professor Avi Schroeder and doctoral student Nitzan Krinsky led the successful treatment of a cancerous tumor using a “nano-factory”—a synthetic cell that produces anti-cancer proteins within tumor tissue.

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Assistant Professor Avi Shroeder

Schroeder and Krinsky integrated molecular machines within lipid-based particles resembling the natural membrane of biological cells. When the particles “sense” biological tissue, they are activated and produce therapeutic proteins, dictated by a synthetic DNA template. The particles recruit the energy sources and building blocks needed for their continued activity from the external environment—such as tumor tissue. When this technology was tested in mice, the engineered particles reached the tumor and produced a protein that eradicated the cancer cells.

The particles developed at Technion may play an important role in the trend of personalized medicine—the adjustment of treatment to the genetic and medical profile of a specific patient.

Using gold and light nanoparticles for targeted, non-invasive drug delivery

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The random dispersion of drugs throughout the body often lowers their effectiveness and damages healthy tissue, leading to adverse side effects such as hair loss and bowel issues in cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy. But Technion Assistant Professor Boaz Mizrahi and doctoral candidate Alona Shagan have developed technology that enables drugs to be delivered and released only to the diseased tissue that a drug is targeting.

The new method uses a unique polymer coating that contains nanoscale gold particles, in addition to the drug itself. The drug only releases when Near-Infrared (NIR) light shines on the gold particles, heating them up, and causing the polymeric coating to melt. NIR light is able to penetrate bodily tissues without harming them.

Philanthropy and a multidisciplinary approach

Major advances in cancer treatment don’t occur in a vacuum. Research universities like the Technion are often the environments that are best suited to produce technological breakthroughs—and philanthropy is needed to ensure that crucial research can be conducted from start to finish. The American Technion Society doesn’t literally perform scientific research, but we connect the diverse and sometimes disparate groups of people who can accomplish far-reaching goals like a cure for cancer. We don’t solve the problem—we enable Technion to assemble the team that can solve it.

That strategy is implemented by the Technion Integrated Cancer Center (TICC), a first-of-its-kind institution launched in November 2016 that brings together world-class clinical experts; life science researchers; and chemists, physicists, and engineers to wage the battle against cancer. Only an integrated team of diverse, accomplished researchers and practitioners can have a chance in this fight.

Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month is a time to recommit to the collaborative, multidisciplinary spirit behind the founding of TICC. In the process of trying to climb the mountain to cure cancer, we will only make strides by using all of the tools at our disposable.

Chinese New Year Represents the Start of a Banner Year for Israel-China Technological Collaboration

This month marks the celebration of the Chinese New Year, kicking off the “Year of the Dog.” 2018 also promises to be the “Year of Israel-China Technological Collaboration.”

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Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology campus

One major reason is because just a couple of months ago, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and its Chinese partners inaugurated the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT), the first Israeli university campus in China.

GTIIT represents another major step forward in the Technion’s global expansion, which includes new partnerships like the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in New York along with the signing of memoranda of understanding with more than 200 universities and research institutes worldwide.

Consistently ranked among the top international science and technology research universities, the Technion has a longstanding reputation for advancing innovation that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge, changes industries, and saves lives. However, in China, New York, and elsewhere, Technion is exporting not just the products of its innovation, but also its process of innovation— the uniquely mentality for thinking outside the box, which is the lifeblood of the Israeli economy and has turned the country into the “start-up nation.”

This model is also rooted in an interdisciplinary research approach—unique to Israel’s universities and developed at the Technion—which brings together experts across fields to cultivate big ideas and address the most difficult challenges. This way of doing business has supported the Technion’s people as they have made immeasurable contributions to Israel and the world in medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation, nanotechnology, and many other fields.

Today this approach is taking root in China through the GTIIT. Established with the support of the Guangdong Province, the Shantou Municipal Government, the Chinese government, and the Li Ka-shing Foundation, GTIIT is training an elite group of scientists and engineers to shape China’s future. The Institute will also promote cooperation between Shantou University and Technion, where partnerships are already underway in the medical sciences.

It is no coincidence that Chinese leaders choose the Technion as its strategic partner for this major project. After more than two decades of extraordinary growth driven by industrialization, China understands that developing human capital is key to their country’s continued success and economic expansion. Israel’s experience transitioning from a developing country to a high-tech powerhouse offers important lessons, and Chinese leaders understand the central role that the Technion has played in spurring this development.

GTIIT is an investment in the Chinese people, with great potential to spawn new companies and drive economic activity in Guangdong, while advancing solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing China and the world—from reducing air pollution, to developing alternative energy sources, to addressing health crises like cancer and lung disease.

GTIIT is also a testament to the power of philanthropy. The institute would not be possible without the vision and generosity of Li Ka-shing, whose foundation granted $130 million to the GTIIT initiative in 2013. Li’s philanthropic work demonstrates the potential of a single person to change many millions of lives.

I’m excited to be leading a delegation of Technion supporters to visit the institution from Oct. 28-Nov. 10, 2018, for the Technion World Tour China. We will tour the new Technion Guangdong campus along with some of most culturally significant sites in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and elsewhere, and meet the leaders some of China’s most influential start-ups and investment companies.

Until then, the Technion has much to celebrate for Chinese New Year 2018. May the Year of the Dog be marked by a flood of innovation and success as Israel and China grow their exciting partnership.

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Inspiration for the New Year

During the final quarter of 2017 alone, Technion achieved what feels like many years’ worth of breakthroughs, awards, and milestones in its global partnerships, which are saving lives, creating jobs, and advancing the bounds of human knowledge in so many fields.

Here’s a quick review of some of the most exciting highlights from 2017, which offer a glimpse into the kind of transformative innovation we can expect in the year ahead.

An Israeli university in China

GTIIT_Dancing LionsIsrael’s population is less than 9 million, and China’s is more than 1.4 billion. Yet the two nations are true partners in the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT), which was inaugurated on Dec. 18 as the first Israeli university in China. The result of a historic partnership between Technion, the Li Ka-shing Foundation, the Guangdong Provincial Government, and the Shantou Municipal Government, the new university will train an elite group of scientists and engineers in disciplines related to the environment.

A starfish creates ceramics

An international research team led by Technion’s Department of Materials Science has discovered how a brainless brittle star can create material like tempered glass underwater at ambient conditions. The discovery may open new bio-inspired routes for toughening brittle ceramics in various applications.

The world’s leader in digital education

A recent survey of representatives from leading global companies that was published by Times Higher Education identified Technion as the world’s leading academic institution when it comes to preparing students to take top positions in the digital revolution. Technion came in ahead of the University College of London, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the top 10 of the rankings, once again proving that Israel punches far above its weight in global innovation.

Stemming the rise of antibiotic resistance

Team Prismatix—a collaboration between Technion and the Bnai Zion Medical Center—earned the Longitude Prize Fund’s Discovery Award for making promising developments in rapid diagnostics for antimicrobial resistance. The Israeli team developed technology that provides a determination of antibiotic resistance in less than three hours—the first step towards a point–of–care diagnostic test that will conserve antibiotics for future generations and revolutionize the delivery of global healthcare.

Helping paralyzed rats walk again

A group led by Technion researchers successfully repaired completely severed spinal cords in paralyzed rats, giving them the ability to walk again. The researchers hope that once follow-up studies are conducted, the technology utilized to restore mobility for the rats can be applied to treating humans’ spinal cord injuries.

Producing Point-of-Sale Hydrogen

Technion researchers are using solar energy to make hydrogen from water, which will make possible the production of hydrogen in a safe, centralized manner at the point of sale (for example, at a gas station for electric cars fueled by hydrogen) located far from the solar farm.

Making waves in Illinois and New York

Technion continued the rapid growth of its influence in the U.S. this fall by signing a research accord with the University of Illinois system, the dedication of Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus in New York, home of the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, and inking a water technology agreement with the City of Chicago.

Diagnosing diseases based on eyelid motion

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Student Alon Berger (seated) wears the Technion-created device that can diagnose diseases based on eyelid motion. At right is lead researcher Adi Hanuka, of the Technion’s Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering.

Researchers at Technion have developed a device that can diagnose diseases by means of an eyelid motion monitor. The device, which is in its developmental stages, has won several international awards.

It is no accident that Israel has cultivated an environment with the world’s largest number of start-ups per capita. The seeds of Start-Up Nation are planted at academic institutions, particularly at the Technion—where future and current innovators, Israeli and international alike, receive the training and conduct the research to advance game-changing innovation for Israel and the world.

Technion not only produces breakthroughs in cancer research, computer science, defense technology, environmental engineering, nanotechnology, and other fields, but amplifies the power of this innovation by forging key partnerships with fellow leading academic institutions worldwide.

These highlights symbolize the tremendous power of our work to advance knowledge and improve lives—fulfilling our role as a university of excellence in a global society. Stronger than ever, with more vital potential than ever, we look forward to spreading even more of our light in 2018.

The Technion and New York: Partners in Innovation

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2017 Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute Connective Media and Health Tech Graduates

New York City might seem like the center of the world when it comes to culture, finance and media, but that’s not all: it’s emerging as a capital of technological innovation and start-up gusto. In a global economy that relies on people disrupting the status quo, the city that never sleeps is working harder than ever to become a center for revolutionary new technology ideas. Perhaps what’s most interesting about the story is that New Yorkers have one of the best partners in the world in their quest to become a tech hub: Israel.

The new strategic New York–Israel tech partnership crystallized in 2011, when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg called upon the world’s leading universities to propose a plan to transform New York City into the next Silicon Valley. Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology joined forces to submit the proposal that won NYC’s support, creating Cornell Tech, home of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, which offers an exciting model for applied graduate education by providing students with the skills and mindset to innovate. In a few months, Cornell Tech will open its state-of-the-art, 2.1 million-square-foot campus on Roosevelt Island.

Last month, the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute graduated its second class of Connective Media students and first class of Health Tech students. They have been hosted at Google’s New York headquarters for the past two years. Alumni are already making waves. A new fintech startup called Switch hopes to alleviate some of the stress of self-insurance. Switch is a platform that uses unique data about independent contractors that allows them to be covered for the duration of a job. Depending on the type of work required and the duration of the assignment, freelancers will be advised on the best type of coverage for them. Switch team member Rishav Kanoria is a 2017 Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute Connective Media graduate.

Another 2017 graduate, Claire Opila, is creating a smartphone keyboard that can detect the emotions of the user by measuring typing speed, punctuation changes, phone movement, distance between keys, and the words being used. Keymochi already has 82 percent accuracy, and will help future researchers determine how to improve health and healthcare.

Photo for blog.pngThese graduates aren’t just changing the start-up scene in New York City, but doing work that will change the world.

Along the same lines as Mayor Bloomberg’s vision for a 21st century New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo visited Israel in the spring and launched a New York– Israel economic development commission. I’m privileged to serve on this commission with 21 other people, as we work to unlock joint opportunities for innovation between the State of Israel and the State of New York—such as by supporting academic and research exchanges between SUNY and CUNY colleges and Israeli universities.

We have just scratched the surface of the potential for these collaborations.

Cornell Tech, home of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, is projected to generate more than $23 billion in economic activity over the next three decades. The New York–Israel economic development commission will strengthen an economic partnership that is already strong (to the tune of almost $5 billion in exports from New York to Israel).

What’s next? Other cities, states and countries may well look at New York, and see that where the Technion goes innovation follows. I expect that we will see more and more collaborations as Israel’s start-up powerhouse continues to build its name on the global stage.

Technion Integrated Cancer Center (TICC): Turning Big Ideas into Action

Compelling philanthropic initiatives often sound simple.

End child hunger. Educate all people. Spread clean water access. Help earthquake victims. Improve health care. Cure cancer.

But these bold objectives are not simple. These are big, complex ideas requiring tremendous resources that research universities are often best equipped to harness. Philanthropy is one of the key resources needed. We at ATS don’t actually execute these initiatives—but we play the critical role of translating the big ideas into action by connecting the diverse and sometimes disparate groups of people who can accomplish these far-reaching goals together.

In other words, we don’t solve the problem: we enable the Technion to assemble the team that can solve the problem. It’s a subtle but important distinction that was brought to life earlier this month, as we marked the opening of the Technion Integrated Cancer Center, a first-of-its-kind institution that brings together world-class clinical experts, a group of life science researchers led by a Nobel Prize winner, and top-level chemists, physicists and engineers to win the battle against cancer.

The TICC serves as a nexus for the Technion’s five affiliated hospitals that run clinical trials, the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine’s life sciences researchers, the Faculty of Computer Science’s innovations in processing large data sets, the Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering’s and the Faculty of Physics’ development of devices for diagnosis and imaging, and the Faculty of Mathematics’ search for new, more powerful algorithms to quickly and effectively process complex data.

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(l to r) Prof. Ze’ev Ronai, Co-Director of the TICC; Technion President Professor Peretz Lavie; Yona Yahav, Mayor of Haifa; Distinguished Professor Aaron Ciechanover, Co-Director of the TICC; Prof. Rafi Beyar, Director of the Rambam Healthcare Campus  

 

Cancer is one of the greatest challenges of humankind today. In the U.S. alone, with its population of 300 million people, there are 1.5 million new cancer patients every year, causing 300,000 deaths. When I spoke with TICC Co-Director Ze’ev Ronai, he emphasized that harnessing the power of diverse, accomplished researchers and practitioners is essential to advancing our ability to combat cancer.

“We have quite a few ideas about how to combat this disease, but translating those ideas into actual drugs is not easy. We have to determine if the drugs work by finding the right patient population because not all patients will respond to certain drugs. And we need to develop new strategies to determine who those patients are,” Ronai said. “We used to develop the same drugs to attack cancer, but we now know that cancer is complex and heterogeneous. Our drugs need to be smart enough to attack the different elements of each different type of cancer.”

The TICC brings together these interdependent experts to win this battle. Researchers comprising the initiative have already published hundreds of papers and, right now, are working on five compounds to treat the disease. They are searching for ways to stop remission. They are developing new strategies that track patients’ reactions to therapies and will extend life without side effects.

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Distinguished Professor and Nobel Laureate Aaron Ciechanover, Co-Director of the TICC

“The powerful connections we enable between engineers, advanced cancer researchers, and clinical doctors,” Ronai said, “will drive the development of novel diagnostic tools and treatments that ultimately result in better outcomes for patients.”

As the Technion positions itself to meet the needs of tomorrow, the ATS is doing the same. We help our supporters zero in on big ideas that they are passionate about and work with the Technion to determine how to best translate these ideas into initiatives and programs that will have a transformative impact.

For instance, we partnered with philanthropists Laura and Isaac Perlmutter, whose generosity has financed a state-of-the-art cancer research facility at the Technion, along with six joint research projects between NYU’s Perlmutter Cancer Center and the Technion. Their investment has enabled the Technion to recruit Professor Eyal Gottlieb, a world leader in the study of cancer metabolomics, to lead this effort. He will work with other American and Israeli scientists to push the boundaries of human knowledge about the unique chemical fingerprints of cellular processes, which holds remarkable potential to unlock treatments for this deadly disease.

Like the Perlmutters, the Crown Family recognizes the importance of bringing together the wide-ranging teams of experts necessary to tackle the biggest ideas–like curing cancer. That’s why part of their support for the TICC is allocated to faculty recruitment. By daring to experiment boldly, thoughtfully, and without fear of failure, today’s social entrepreneurs are changing the way philanthropy works. This is not only exhilarating to behold–it is essential for our future.

I invite you to learn more about the TICC and other cancer breakthroughs we are supporting at www.ats.org/cancer.

#Technion3Qs: Cyber Security With Jacobs Prof. Ari Juels

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Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute Prof. Ari Juels

I am fortunate to have a front-row seat to some of the most exciting, innovative, and brilliant work of our times — talking to Technion-related thought leaders all over the world is definitely one of the biggest perks of my job. I’d like to start sharing more of these conversations with you, in blog and social media posts I’ll call “Technion Three Questions,” or #Technion3Qs. Today’s guest, in honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, is Ari Juels, a renowned computer scientist and professor at the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech.

Q1: As a cyber expert at the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, what do you think is the biggest cyber threat today?
I’d highlight a couple that are of interest from a geopolitical perspective, with a U.S.-centric view. Cyberattacks by state actors that erode confidence in the outcome of the presidential election are a big, realistic, and proximate threat, aggravated by the doubts about the integrity of the system irresponsibly sowed by one of the candidates. A less visible, but perhaps equally pernicious geopolitical threat, is the silent theft of intellectual property from the United States by other nations. Such attacks harm not only U.S. industry, but also national security. And they are occurring on a truly massive scale.
 
Q2: What do most people not know about Internet security?
A rising threat that most people are oblivious about, but that happily researchers and policymakers are becoming increasingly sensitized to, is “algorithmic fairness.” Algorithms are increasingly making key decisions in our lives, filtering the news we see, computing our credit scores, sifting through our job and loan applications, and so forth. In many cases, even the creators of these algorithms don’t know how they work. They just train a machine learning model using existing data. Thus there are serious risks of hidden bias or error. Some high-profile cases, such as Staples’ inadvertent discriminatory pricing regime, illustrate the threat, but we don’t yet have good tools or practices to address it.
 
Q3: What new kinds of thinking are you seeing from your students who are preparing to be the next generation of cyber security experts?
My students are especially excited about blockchains and cryptocurrency, and thus viewing security as an enabling force, rather than just a tool to defend systems from breaches. Blockchains enable trust relationships to be forged between people and entities without longstanding relationships, sometimes in remarkable ways. Trust is, of course, the foundation of a flourishing society, so there are real opportunities for cryptography and security to improve well-being.

Learn more about how the Technion is helping transform New York City via the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech www.ats.org/nyc.