Google scientist first woman to get prestigious award for smart mobility research in Israel

Dr Tali Dekel, a senior research scientist with Google, is one of four recipients named this year to snag the grand total of US$1 million, the world's largest monetary award in these fields. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM PEOPLE.CSAIL.MIT.EDU

TEL AVIV - A woman has received the prestigious Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels and Smart Mobility - a first since the award's inception in 2013 in Israel.

Dr Tali Dekel, a senior research scientist with tech giant Google in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of four award recipients this year who will be sharing US$1 million (S$1.36 million), the world's largest monetary award in these fields.

She received the prize under the new category of Researcher Recruitment, which is given to leading global researchers who will be committed to becoming full faculty members in the Israeli academia for at least four years.

Dr Dekel, who is an expert in developing computer vision and computer graphics algorithms, has been recruited to join the mathematics and computer science department at Weizmann Institute, Israel, next year.

The other recipient of the prize under the same category is Professor Leonard J. Shulman, who will be taking his knowledge in algorithms, coding and quantum computation to the Hebrew University Of Jerusalem next year.

Both recipients are expected in the coming years to contribute to research in the areas of smart mobility and alternative fuels, considered important to Israel's growth. It is also an area that Singapore wants to be part of as spelt out in its Smart Mobility 2030 road map. For instance, Singapore has envisioned that breakthroughs in connected and autonomous vehicle technologies could enhance motorist and pedestrian safety. The plan also outlines Singapore's vision to reduce the 20 per cent carbon emissions contributed by land transport through the use of alternative energy sources.

Israel's Minister of Science and Technology Ofir Akunis said at a gala dinner held at the Hilton Tel Aviv on Monday night (Oct 28) that the new category of Researcher Recruitment was created to strengthen his country's research efforts in the fields of smart mobility and alternative fuels.

He said: "We do so in order to allow the future generation of researchers and scientists to make the next leap in this important area in which Israel has a significant advantage."

Israel, which promotes itself as a start-up nation, is home to hundreds of start-ups that focus on alternative fuels and smart transportation capabilities. The country is also home to a host of automotive innovation labs set up by multinational carmakers such as Ford, Renault and Nissan.

In Singapore, Israel's Innovation Authority has a partnership with ST Engineering to groom Israeli start-ups in fields including smart mobility. The Innovation Authority will provide funding to the start-ups while ST Engineering will offer support for research and development, testing and marketing to a global market.

Dr Dekal and Professor Schulman join two other scientists this year to be given the Samson-Prime Minister's Prize - the other two under the category of Groundbreaking Research in the Areas of Alternative Fuels and Smart Mobility.

They are distinguished professor Lee Sang-yup, a South Korean researcher who is being recognised for his contribution to the development of renewable bio-mass for cleaner and greener fuels; and Israeli professor Emanuel Peled, the inventor of the Solid-Electrolyte-Interphase (SEI) in batteries, something which has become crucial for electric vehicle developers.

The four recipients' prize money total US$1 million. It is not made immediately clear how the prize money will be split among them.

Other past awardees include Professor Gregory Stephanopoulos in 2016, for his contributions to the engineering of microbes for biofuels production, and Professor Michael Gratzel in 2014, for developing a new type of solar cell.

The Samson-Prime Minister's Prize is awarded by the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and fund-raising organisation Keren Hayesod.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a recorded video clip played at the same event: "Our vision is a world free of its dependence on fossil fuels, with clean, efficient means of transportation. Our mission is to establish Israel as the centre of knowledge and industry in the field of smart mobility."

He also brought up how one of the 2019 Nobel Laureates in chemistry, Professor John Goodenough, had been a recipient of the Samson-Prime Minister's Prize in 2015, for the development of the lithium-ion battery. "We realised his breakthrough and contribution back then, and today we're proud that he is receiving a Nobel Prize," said Mr Netanyahu.

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