JCT graduates engineer high tech success

Students in a lab at the Jerusalem College of Technology.When the Learning Annex’s well-known founder and president, Bill Zanker, participated in an eBay auction and bid $57,100 for a 60-minute lunch with Rupert Murdoch, the real prize winner was the …

Students in a lab at the Jerusalem College of Technology.When the Learning Annex’s well-known founder and president, Bill Zanker, participated in an eBay auction and bid $57,100 for a 60-minute lunch with Rupert Murdoch, the real prize winner was the little known but highly influential Jerusalem College of Technology.

The Israeli academic institution is held in such high regard by world media magnate Murdoch because its graduates are an integral driving force behind his international satellite communications company NDS, the leading global supplier of open end-to-end digital pay-TV solutions for the secure delivery of entertainment and information to television set-top boxes and IP devices.

“Among their founders were five of our graduates. And today, out of their 900 employees in their main Jerusalem offices, I was told that 120 are graduates of JCT,” explained the president of the college, Prof. Joseph S. Bodenheimer, with pride in his tone.

“They provide the engineering backbone of the satellite communications giant.”

Bodenheimer sat back in his chair in his well-organized office in the heart of the surprisingly large JCT campus – nestled on a hilltop near the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University – and described to ISRAEL21c how Murdoch ended up selling his lunchtime companionship to benefit the college.

“Someone had mentioned to me about an event where a lunch with Warren Buffet was auctioned, and suggested that maybe JCT could raise some funds by finding someone to offer a lunch themselves. I thought of Murdoch right away and approached one of our graduates – Dov Rubin – who is NDS’s Vice President and head of Operations in the US, and holds regular meetings with Murdoch. He said he would give it a try,” said Bodenheimer.

“The answer was yes. We raised a certain sum of money, and no less importantly, we attracted worldwide attention that was more valuable than money. Murdoch said he specifically wanted to support institutions like ours, because he personally knows many of our graduates through NDS,” he added.

The JCT was founded by the late Prof. Ze’ev Lev (William Low) in 1969. Through its Machon Lev institution, it has grown into one of Israel’s major academic success stories. Specializing in high-tech engineering, industrial management and life and health sciences, JCT is of Israel’s main accredited engineering schools recognized by Israel’s Council of Higher Education, and many of Israel’s high tech engineers and most of its electro-optic engineers are JCT graduates.

And they are all observant Jews.

“Prof. Lev’s idea was to enable young religious people to continue Jewish studies and also obtain an academic degree without feeling like they’re cutting off their Jewish education,” said Bodenheimer.

One of the key elements in providing that religious setting is the establishment of separate institutions for men and women – Machon Lev for male students and Machon Tal for female students.

“The idea behind this is that if we want to attract people from the yeshiva world and Torah academies, we had to accept that would avoid a coed institution,” said Bodenheimer, on the decision to first open Machon Lev. “However, we always felt that when the time was right, we would open a program for women. Initially we were told that there would be no demand among women for engineering degrees, but since we opened Machon Tal, we’ve found women are very happy to enroll in engineering,”

“With women, we’ve found something very interesting – they thrive in academic studies in a non-coed environment. In sciences, women are doing as well, if not better then men. In the Technion, for example, their coed engineering department has about 10% women. Here, if you take all our engineering students, about 40% are women.”

Whether male or female, graduates of JCT have become ubiquitous over the years on the high tech landscape in Israel and the US – especially in the fields of micro-optics and non-invasive medical technology. But due to its non-university status, the two-year degree college has failed to receive the accolades that other Israeli institutions like the Technion and the Weizmann Institute have.

However, according to Bodenheimer, over 40 companies have been launched through the college’s commercial arm JC Technologies, and students and faculty have been instrumental in launching another 40 companies.

“That’s a good track record, compared to any university,” he said, adding that the distinction between college and university has been instrumental in JCT having been able to establish itself as a major research institution.

“JCT finds itself caught in between universities and academic colleges. In size, we’re more similar to a college, but in makeup of faculty and interest in R&D, we’re closer to universities,” said Bodenheimer.

“Part of Professor Lev’s vision was that the caliber of our academic faculty would be on par with university faculty. But unlike universities, we have few graduate and research students. The universities receive large allocations from the government for research students which enables professors to build labs, hire assistants and conduct research.

“We have to find our own resources. Since we have to raise our own research money, the research we do is very practical and goal oriented.”
Bodenheimer used a personal story to illustrate what he was referring to.

“When I was doing my PhD, a colleague was showing off a magnet he had just received – a huge thing that cost over $200,000. I asked him what he was going to do with it, and he said it was to measure G factors.

” ‘What’s going to be the practical use, though,’ I asked.

“‘Oh, there’s no practical use, it will just push the borders of physics a little,’ he told me.

“I thought to myself, ‘Israel has so few resources, shouldn’t we be focusing on efforts that can lead to technological advances and scientific breakthroughs?! For me, it was a significant moment that has stayed with me.”

That guiding philosophy has served Bodenheimer well since taking over the realm of JCT in 1993. He was recently elected to his fourth four-year term – his last, he says.

“I’m 64 years old – enough is enough,” the British-born physicist laughs.

Bodenheimer studied for his PhD under Lev, and has been associated with JCT since day one, when he was instrumental in setting up the physics labs. The owner of 12 patents and author of over 80 research papers in the field of micro-optics, Bodenheimer is proudest of his work in establishing the use of electro-optics in the Israel Air Force.

“Soon after the Yom Kippur War in 1974, I had just returned to Israel from a sabbatical in England. The Air Force was just realizing that they were not up to date on the whole field of night vision devices, so through my reserve duty I introduced about 20 course on various levels to teach electro-optronics.

“Eventually, some of the people I taught became optic experts in the Air Force. I would say that today the major part of air force involvement in electro-optics can be traced back to those courses. I get a lot of satisfaction from that.”

But clearly, he’s also proud of the accomplishments of the students and professors of JTC. In addition to the success of NDS, a number of other world-class companies got their start via the college.

Ophir Optronics Ltd. is an internationally known company specializing in the the manufacture of very high precision infrared and visible optical components like lenses, mirrors, metallic optics (spherical, aspherical & diffractive) windows, domes & prisms.

“They were based here for the first two years of their existence in the mid ’70s. Today they employ over 300 people in Jerusalem,” said Bodenheimer.

Another company with a good deal of JCT knowhow in its development is VKB – a Jerusalem startup that has made waves with its virtual keyboard that enables mobile communication device users to project an infra red image of a normal-sized Qwerty keyboard onto any flat surface, and type in naturally whatever information is required.

In the field of medical research, Bodenheimer pointed to Redoxia Ltd., which since 1994, have been studying the factors which cause some body cells to become cancerous and grow out of control. In the fall of 2003, the company conducted tests on a combination of agents in human tumor cells growing in cell cultures to determine their effectiveness in stopping cancer-cell proliferation. The tests showed the in vitro efficacy of the chosen agents, over a wide range of concentrations, in stopping the proliferation of tumor cells.

JCT and Redoxia are now actively collaborating to improve the chemical agents developed by Redoxia to stop tumor growth.

All of these achievements give good reason for Bodenheimer to bask in the sense of a job well done.

“In the twelve years I’ve been here, I’ve taken the college from a small institution of 400 students, to 1,000 plus. We’re broad-based, much better established, and our graduates are held in high esteem,” he said. “We’re one of the few academic institutions in Israel with an ideology. It really differentiates us from the rest of academia – in Israel and in most of the world.”

At least one person would agree with that assessment: Rupert Murdoch.