Desert Life

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Prof. Yair Zarmi. new institute in the Negev
"Pioneering," "breakthrough," "laying the foundations" – such terms are often used to describe scientific research. But in the case of Prof. Yair Zarmi, they also apply to his decision to take part in the establishment of a new research institute for the study of the desert in 1979, on behalf of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Zarmi's decision, supported by his wife, Shulamit, stemmed from a combination of idealistic and practical considerations. "The idea of participating in the creation of something new appealed to me, as did the breathtaking landscapes of the Negev." Along with changing his job and moving to Midreshet Ben-Gurion, he also switched research fields – from theoretical particle physics to environmental physics.
In his current studies, he tackles environmental problems and processes, such as the dynamics of floodwater flow, nonlinear waves and the physical aspects of growing algae as a future source of food or biofuel.
He recalls his Ph.D. studies at Weizmann in the team of Prof. Haim Harari as a defining experience, both personally and professionally. He met up with his former thesis adviser again in the early 1980s, when Harari visited the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research as chairman of thegovernment's academic budgeting committee. The desert facility then consisted of barely a dozen researchers, and Harari aptly summed up the state of its campus: "I came here wearing shiny shoes, and I'm leaving in dusty shoes."
Much floodwater has flowed since then through the Negev. The desert institute now has 75 researchers and 150 students, and the tiny solar research team that Zarmi initially joined is now an interdisciplinary department. When the institute's Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies was opened, Zarmi served as its second dean. While taking part in shaping its policy, he used the Feinberg Graduate School as a model, particularly in seeking to create an intimate atmosphere similar to the one prevailing at Feinberg in the days when he was a student.