Although billed as speaking about his work in the genetic modification of plants for the growing of bio-fuel plants in semi arid environments, Technion Biology Professor Shimon Gepstein introduced his remarks at the July TSA Einstein Supper by speaking about the Technion’s leading work in bringing students from the fringe into the Technion.The results are impressive. Of the 700 students per year, 70% complete the course and are admitted to the Technion. This is 25%
of the annual student intake. Of the 500 students who are admitted, four fifths of whom come from low socio-economic backgrounds, 95% complete their degrees.
Professor Gepstein as Head of the Technion’s Center for Pre-University Education is responsible for programs which each year prepare 700 students from minority and low socio-economic sectors of Israeli society as well as soldiers transitioning from their army service to university.
Invited to Sydney by Sydney University’s School of Education he gave a number of seminars on the various programs offered by the Centre and their success rates. The consensus was that Australia could learn much from the Technion’s approach.
Professor Gepstein said that research had shown that Israel was facing a shortage of suitably qualified students leaving schools with the requisite high level of maths and physics required for admission to the Technion. This meant that it had to look to non-traditional areas of society for capable students and then bring them up to standard.
The result was a series of programs that bridge the level of education attained by the student and that required to handle the courses at the Technion.
These programs target students from the fringe who would not necessarily have had the educational exposure of students from mainstream areas and include development towns, the ultra-orthodox and Arab villages. The Centre also prepares immigrant and students selected for the new International School of Engineering.
Professor Gepstein then explained his research work which centred on the ageing process of plants and which led him to discover a technique that enables crops to grow in harsh semi-arid environments.
He said that the world faced a bio-fuel dilemma; should arable land be used to grow food or fuel crops. Increasingly, the pressure was to grow fuel crops.
He discovered the genetic program that controls both the ageing process and the amount of water needed by plants to survive. From this he and his team have been able to genetically change the hormone timing process thus enabling plants to use only 30% of the water normally required as well as to be able to withstand hostile environments such as high salt content lands.
His work thus moves bio-fuel crops to the margins where cropping currently does not occur.Professor Gepstein’s first discovery is currently being commercialised for the marketplace while a second patent is also now available for commercialisation.