An Interview With Prof. Haim Harari



Prof. Haim Harari. Ready for another term
Prof. Haim Harari


Q: Looking back over the last 5 years, what do you see as the major achievements of your first term of office?

A: I am proudest of our dynamic new research initiatives. The ongoing reorganization of our research structure has brought together new coalitions of scientists and facilitated new forms of collaboration, some of which are already beginning to bear fruit.

Q: Has there been a parallel change in the financial sphere?

A: There have been many changes in that sphere as well, as a result of which we have had four consecutive years of balanced budgets. In the first instance, increased support was received from donors all over the world. In the last five years they gave us $235m. in new cash gifts -- way above anything we have ever seen before. There has also been a slow but steady increase in support from the Government of Israel and, last but far from least, Institute scientists of all ranks brought us $130m. in research grants during those five years. That means an average of $500,000 per scientist!

What about the expenditure side of the Institute's balance sheet?

A: We have decreased the number of our non-scientists by 120, while at the same time, increasing the number of our scientists and students by 100 each. The latter two groups of newcomers, by the way, were financed to a significant extent by outside sources.

Q: Where did the additional scientists and students come from?

A: Mainly from the former Soviet Union but, of course, we have also taken in many additional young scientists from other places.

Q: Did the Institute recruit any scientific "stars" during this period?

A: Yes, no fewer than 11, all of them world leaders in their respective fields. Five are from the former Soviet Union, two are American, three are Israelis who have returned after many years abroad and one is an Israeli who came from another institution of higher learning in this country. They are a tremendous addition.

Q: What changes have been made in the Institute's physical facilities to accommodate this influx of talent and meet other needs?

A: We've put up many new buildings, including the Brain Research Building, the Ebner Auditorium, the Goldschleger Life Sciences Library, the Musher Building for Science Teaching, the Mayer Building housing the Braun Submicron Center and the Laub International Youth Village. We've also renovated several other structures on the campus.

Q: Was this accompanied by an investment in the Institute's infrastructure?

A: We've invested a great deal in improving our research infrastructure. For example, our computer system has been substantially upgraded and our library budget has been doubled. However, I hasten to add, we still have a long way to go.

Q: Have there been specific changes where research is concerned?

A: A great many. In mathematics and physics, for instance we have embarked upon new types of research thanks mainly to the influx of students and scientists from the former Soviet Union.

Q: Does that mean the Russians have "taken over" in mathematics and physics?

A: Of course not. Sabras and immigrants from elsewhere still lead the way in most fields, including, for instance, the physics of solid-state condensed matter, where we are emphasizing its impact on electronics and modern technology.

Q: What is going on in other spheres of Institute research at this time?

A: While I can't go into everything, I'd like to point out that chemistry research has taken a giant step forward, multidisciplinary brain research has gone very well, studies of diseases ? autoimmune and others ? have been extremely fruitful and our efforts to safeguard the environment through, among other things, developing new approaches to the utilization of solar energy, have yielded important results that are likely to be of significance in this country and elsewhere in the world.

Q: Is the emphasis now on "results," or is pure research still important?

A: There is nothing so important as pure research at the Weizmann Institute, yet I wouldn't deny our growing success in technology transfer. The income of Yeda, our interface with industry, went up from $5 million five years ago to $12 million last year, and I see it only growing. That is why we have now appointed, for the first time, a Vice President for Technology Transfer.

Q: What about money from other sources? Isn't there likely to be a problem with U.S. grants because of cuts in research funding there and with grants from Germany because of that country's deteriorating economic situation?

A: There may be such a problem. However, the sources of our research grants are so diverse that so long as we do first class work, I believe the flow of grants will continue.

Q: Can we expect to go on getting so much money from Jewish philanthropic sources at a time when younger Jews are less attached to Jewish causes than their parents and grandparents?

A: We are already receiving substantial amounts of money from younger donors. As a matter of fact, I think we may do even better in the future because many younger people prefer to give money to organizations with which they identify, and whose goals they understand, rather than to larger amorphous bodies which serve very general purposes.

Q: Will we also go on getting more "stars" to join our staff, despite the low salaries we offer them?

A: Yes, because there are some people who will make sacrifices where salary is concerned so long as we can provide them with good research conditions.

Q: Isn't what you say no less true of other Institute scientists?

A: Certainly, which is why my number one goal for the next five years is to give as many groups of researchers as possible all the conditions they require to compete with their counterparts in other countries. That means trained staff, first class equipment, adequate laboratory space and last, but not least, a strong Institute infrastructure. Success or failure will then depend solely on the talent and efforts of the scientists themselves.

Q: Doesn't that mean that some groups will have a plethora of resources while others will go short?

A: That is precisely my intention. I refuse to allow a situation in which whatever resources we have are divided equally. We have to decide on priorities and to put everything possible at the disposal of the very best research groups on the campus.

Q: During these next five years, will you also be emphasizing the contributions we can make to the new Middle East?

A: We can and must play an important role in spheres where we already excel. I am thinking in particular of environmental science, energy research, plant genetics, nutrition, science education, and parasitic and tropical diseases.

No matter what shape the new Middle East takes, problems in these spheres will have to be tackled, and the Weizmann Institute will do its share in tackling them.