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One of ten UK projects selected for Award

An academic at Bangor University’s School of Chemistry is one of ten British academics involved in British-Israeli research projects selected to receive funding through the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership, BIRAX.  The announcement of Awards to projects which tackle global challenges in Energy and the Environment was made recently by British Foreign Secretary William Hague at an event hosted by Britain’s ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould, celebrating scientific collaboration between the UK and Israel.  He hailed science as “one of the cornerstones of the relationship between Britain and Israel” and added “both are countries that have built up our economies and our identity through being leaders in science and technology”

Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology, Professor Daniel Hershkowitz responded to the announcement, saying “The scientific cooperation agreement with Britain, like similar agreements with other countries, is additional proof of Israel’s status as a world scientific power. I place very great importance on international scientific cooperation in general and cooperation with Britain in particular. The language of science bridges differences and gaps between peoples and different world societies and cooperation between Israel and Britain will advance not only these two countries, but the entire world.”

The Joint award between Professor Igor Perepichka of Bangor University’s School of Chemistry and Dr. Michael Bendikov, Weizmann Institute of Science is for joint research to develop new organic electronic materials that will help conserve solar energy and produce “solar electricity”. Combining the expertises of UK and Israeli researchers and their recent discoveries, the joint BIRAX project is toward design of novel type of electrically conducting polymers for plastic solar cells and fundamental understanding of the structure and functions of these polymers in electronic devices. The new materials being developed by Prof. Perepichka and Dr. Bendikov are expected to open the door for elaboration of efficient plastic solar cells with significantly improved solar energy conversion efficiencies that will contribute to the development of efficient clean energy sources. However, the researchers also see the great potential of such materials in a wider range of organic electronic and nanoelectronic applications: polymer LEDs, plastic transistors, electrochromic materials, memory devices, sensors/biosensors.

David Willetts, Britain’s Minister for Universities and Science voiced his support for the scheme: “I am keen to maximise the contribution that science and research can make to the UK’s economic recovery,” he said.  “Developing co-authored research of the highest quality is one way to do that, so I welcome initiatives such the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange programme. The appetite for collaboration that exists between the higher education institutions in our countries is clearly very healthy. I hope to see even more high-quality joint-research between the UK and Israel in the future.”

The ten chosen projects address a wide range of topics within the field of the environment covering conservation of the coral reef in the Red Sea, the development of bio-renewable resources to replace non-degradable petroleum-based plastics and crop productivity to safeguard sustainable agriculture. The projects were selected for their innovation, the strength of the collaboration and the long term prospects for continuing the project and its potential impact.

Previous BIRAX recipients have lauded the scheme which funds visits between institutions in the UK and Israel and enables the building of deeper, lasting relationships between scientists with similar interests. Dr Maya Schuldiner from the Weizmann Institute whose grant has enabled joint research with colleagues from the University of Manchester into the genes that are responsible for maintaining the appropriate level of acidity essential for the vitality of yeast cells says “BIRAX has allowed us to think better and to work better … but I think maybe the most important gift of all is the gift of friendship”.

The ten selected projects involve a total of nine British Universities in partnership with seven Israeli counterparts. The British Universities include the Universities of Bangor, Bath, Brunel, Cambridge, Glasgow, Leeds, Oxford, Southampton and Imperial College and the Israeli Universities include Ben Gurion, Haifa University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute.

BIRAX was launched in 2008 by the Israeli and British Prime Ministers with the aim of strengthening academic collaboration between the two countries and enjoys continued support from both governments.  Among the funders are the Pears Foundation, UJIA, Britain’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Science and Technology in Israel.  The scheme was designed by the British Council in collaboration with the Pears Foundation and academic leaders from both countries and is managed by the British Council in Israel.

Publication date: 29 November 2010