The Faculty of Biology – A Faculty on the Road of Transformational Change

The "Quality Transition”

In this first report I present to the Technion Board of Governors I wanted to start a new tradition whereby I provide you with a glimpse at one Technion Faculty. The reason for this is that sometimes when looking at the larger picture you can lose sight of the details and I wanted to make is possible for you to get a taste of the actual workings of a given Technion Faculty. This year I have chosen to tell you a little about our Faculty of Biology and the reason for this is that this Faculty is a fine example of a Faculty in transition. The Dean of the Faculty of Biology, Professor Gadi Schuster, his academic colleagues and administrative staff have embraced the vision of a current and contemporary Faculty of Biology that excels in research, one that will lead the Life Sciences revolution at the Technion.

The Faculty of Biology started as a small department that diverged from the Faculty of Chemistry in 1971. During the first 25 years the Faculty of Biology developed slowly in terms of quality and quantity, focusing primarily on molecular and cellular biology research. After it became a Faculty, Biology was not dominant on campus as compared to Biology departments at other universities. About ten years ago, the Technion management decided to establish strong and leading Life Science activities on the Technion campus by upgrading the Faculty of Biology to serve as the focal point for research into modern Life Sciences and teaching efforts. One of the tools for implementing this decision was the establishment of the of the Lorry I Lokey Center for Life Sciences and Engineering founded by Distinguished Professor and 2004 Nobel Prize  laureate, Aaron Ciechanover. As head of this Center, Professor Ciechanover collected and implemented the essential resources and funds for the J. Steven and Rita Emerson Life Sciences Building adjacent to the Faculty of Biology to house modern infrastructure, technologies and facilities in Biology and Life Sciences. The mission being to expand research capacity and to attract excellent new faculty members as investigators to the Technion.

The Faculty of Biology rapidly implemented these moves and adopted its mission to quickly become an excellent biology research unit, comparable to the best departments in the country and on the global scene. Through pro-active recruitment of young investigators as well as seasoned leaders, the Faculty grew from 23 members a mere two years ago to 27 this year, with the goal of reaching 30 full time faculty members as principal investigators in the foreseeable future. The faculty has expanded into the new building, housing both research labs and - more importantly- inter-departmental infrastructure such as genomic, proteomic and microscopy facilities. These coordinated efforts position the Faculty of Biology as the principal unit of life science research and teaching at the Technion. Surrounding the Faculty of Biology, a network of collaborations and joint research projects are being forged with multiple disciplines encompassing Engineering and Physical Science departments.

Special emphasize has been invested in the recruitment of excellent and talented new researchers, as well as upgrading the existing scientific research capacity, and the quality of teaching. Today, we can already say that although we are only halfway along our road to of transformational change, this optimistic move is hugely successful. The recent recruits alongside our current generation of faculty members are excellent, conduct forefront research, publish in the highest profile and prestigious scientific journals, and reap international recognition. Evidence of this is that the Faculty of Biology is among the highest at the Technion in the amount of research funds obtained from competitive sources. Nothing reflects this rapid accent better than the rapid promotion of its rank and file: whereas there were only two full professors of Biology in 2005, this number has multiplied itself five fold in five years leading to the present number of ten full professors (more than one third of Faculty members). If I may summarize at this intermediate stage of our journey, the Faculty of Biology at the Technion has reached the stage of a very high quality biology research unit, primarily in Molecular, Development, and Cellular Biology, with excellent prospects into new and exciting fields such as Biodiversity, Marine Microbiology, Cancer Research, Protein Science, and Quantitative Systems approaches to resolving large biological datasets.


Stepping out of the Cellular and Molecular Biology Foundations by Capitalizing on the Technion Advantage

Having set the stage for a strong scientific framework, the Faculty of Biology together with the Technion management have determined that the time has come to add capacity in Quantitative and Biophysical Biology to the ongoing cellular and molecular biology endeavors, or to quote their dean: "to finally take advantage of a Biology Department situated in the midst of a Technology Institute". Therefore, in addition to the longstanding aim of excelling and serving as the major life science research and teaching force at the Technion, "phase 2" has been inaugurated to link the Faculty of Biology with technology rich analytical approaches such as Physics, Mathematics, Engineering, and Nanotechnology. This objective has been spearheaded by some of our Biology Department laboratories that are conducting high-throughput genome sequencing or large scale proteomic analysis of cells and tissues, making use of the top-of-the-line DNA sequencing and Mass Spectrometry facilities recently purchased and housed in the Biology core facilities managed by the Lorry Lokey Center for Life Sciences and Engineering. To this end, the present recruitment efforts are excellent scientists that trained on single molecule biophysics, systems biology, nano-biotechnology, high resolution/high throughput screens, structural biology, and related aspects of quantitative or biophysical biology.  In fact, recruiting efforts are well under way with established professors at leading institutes abroad to bring them to the Technion next year. As you may have noticed, the research in the Faculty of Biology is following the overall campus-wide trend of interdisciplinary and the recruitment of new faculty members will facilitate this even further as these new recruits will be active in fields that require the involvement of several Faculties. My report next year will undoubtedly unveil many exciting surprises describing the significant impact this transition in our Biology Department has on the Technion community.


The new building

A faculty in transition with such ambitious plans for positive change requires and needs facilities that will make all of this possible.  On June 6th, 2010 we are inaugurating the state of the art J. Steven and Rita Emerson Life Sciences Building which will house the whole Life Sciences initiative.  I wish to tell you a little about this building which is so important for our campus and for the Faculty of Biology.  We began construction on this building in the beginning of 2008.  The building will comprise of 9 floors: one floor will house all the machinery, 2 floors are infrastructure floors and the remainder 6 floors will house various research labs.  The Faculty of Biology will house a total of 5 floors: the machinery floor, an infrastructure floor which will house the protein center and the infrastructure center, and 3 floors designed for research laboratories.  There are 7 Biology Faculty members who will be moving into the building and in the near future 2 additional faculty members (newly recruited) will be moving in as well.  After the building is complete we hope to begin renovating the administration floor in the existing Faculty of Biology building (3rd floor) which connects to the double helix bridge between the two buildings as well as refurbish the existing laboratories so they can be adapted to new faculty members.  We also hope to add two seminar rooms and a cafeteria that will be set up around the Spanish-style courtyard that is encompassed by the two buildings. In the future we hope to be able to provide the Faculty of Biology with a large auditorium for its bigger classes as at this point in time the only facilities seat up to 100 people. The needs of the Faculty are for an auditorium that can seat at least 250 people to host classes, guest lectures and international meetings.  I know that the new building will begin a whole new phase in the Faculty's life, one which is exciting and will steer the Faculty into the future.

I hope that this glimpse at the Faculty of Biology as a faculty on the track of a meaningful important change has piqued your curiosity and I invite you to take a closer look.  I am confident the Faculty staff will be happy to welcome you so you can see firsthand the great things taking place within its walls.