URBANA, Ill. – A new partnership between the University of Illinois and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem kicked off in July 2018 with a visit to Israel by a delegation from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at Illinois.
The group, led by ACES Dean Kim Kidwell, cited complementary research interests, as well as Israel’s vibrant and supportive environment for entrepreneurial development, as the basis of the partnership. The aim of the visit was to identify opportunities and strengthen collaborations to increase the effectiveness of agricultural practices and food processing; to identify potential industry partners; and to explore opportunities for shared student experiences that can lead to industry connections and eventual full-time employment.
Like the College of ACES, the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is a worldwide leader in the study of agriculture, nutrition, and environmental quality. Scientists at the Faculty have developed groundbreaking innovations in irrigation, soil solarization, and growing vegetables with long shelf stability. Israel is nearly two-thirds desert; however, it effectively manages its limited water resources and is a global pioneer in creating successful agricultural solutions for arid environments.
“What’s beautiful about international collaborations like this one is that we all are trying to address similar problems, but we’re trying to apply these solutions to the context we live in,” Kidwell says. “I hope we can work together to take on some of the most serious challenges that are facing people on this planet, including food security, environmental health, and well-being.”
The Robert H. Smith Faculty welcomed the ACES delegation’s visit as an opportunity to share and further develop knowledge for the benefit of both parties. Both universities identify contributions to the global community through their advances in agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability as core parts of their missions.
“Listening to Dean Kidwell talk about her vision for collaboration, and hearing from the delegation members about their outstanding research, was truly inspiring,” says Masha Niv, vice dean for research at the Robert H. Smith Faculty.
Looking to the future, the University of Illinois has invited the Robert H. Smith Faculty to join the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), a new public-private research institute based in Chicago and a key component of the University of Illinois System’s research agenda.
Elvira de Mejia, professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences at U of I, explains how this new partnership fits into the DPI: “Together we aim to increase the effectiveness of agricultural practices and food processing in order to increase production and improve the nutritional quality of products and their shelf life. We also seek to minimize food and animal waste, specifically in intensive agricultural systems (both plant and animal-based systems), to address critical issues in food and agriculture.
“Team members on both sides will need to increase their understanding of the processes that affect and improve the quality of the environment while achieving the goal of sustaining the agricultural environment and preserving it for future generations. The complexity of these challenges will require using economic tools as a means of arriving at a successful solution.”
While in Israel, the ACES delegation also visited Tel Aviv University, where they were greeted by its president, Professor Joseph Klafter, and other high-level executives. Of special interest to ACES was the Manna Center program in food safety and food security, presented by Professor Daniel Chamovitz, Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences. The delegation also learned about the Institute for Cereal Crops Improvement and the School of Molecular, Cell biology, and Biotechnology.
The ACES delegation included:
- Dean Kim Kidwell
- Associate Dean for Research Germán Bollero
- Elvira de Mejia, professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences
- Paul Davidson, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (Principal Investigator, Discovery Partners Institute, DPI, project)
- Yong-Su Jin, professor of food microbiology in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
- Yuan-Xiang Pan, associate professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
- Juan Loor, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences
- Jack Juvik, professor in the Department of Crop Sciences
- Regina Cortez, graduate student in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
- Erez Cohen, Executive Director, Illini Hillel Cohen Center for Jewish Life
The Office of the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation (VPEDI) provided travel support to encourage the development of new or the strengthening of existing faculty and college collaborations with Israel and Mexico. VPEDI is offering up to 15 travel grants to further the mission of VPEDI, the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), and the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN).