ICE | The Israel Chemist and Engineer

55 The Israel Chemist and Engineer Issue 1, September 2015, Tishrei 5776 Profiles Simone Somekh was born in Italy in 1994. He studies at Bar-Ilan University and works as a freelance writer. His works have been published in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and Wired Italy. His Twitter account: (@simonsays101) and his website: www.simonesomekh.com studies with research on natural plants and their active components. Together with Prof. Raphael Mechoulam he proved that THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the only psychoactive component in hashish. Shani’s career, however, went much further than lab research. The chemist was one of the pioneers who started working at Beer Sheba’s Institute of Higher Education in 1968, before it was declared to be the University of the Negev, later on Ben-Gurion University (BGU). “We all took a big risk,” he recalls. “The students didn’t even know if they were going to receive a degree, since we got the academic accreditation only in 1973.” Shani believes that a collective inferiority complex helped the institution succeed: “In order to raise the bar, we demanded from our students much more than the regular curriculum required. The studies toward the B.Sc. in chemistry included 50% of new topics and subjects not studied in chemistry degrees 10 years before.” Shani later served as chairman, vice-rector, and director of the Institute of Applied Research at BGU. In the eighties, when the university almost collapsed due to the staggering inflation that had hit the country, Shani pushed the institution to make drastic cuts in salaries and accept funds from international donors. The budgets were then redistributed among departments according to new parameters, based entirely on performance and achievement. When the Institute of Applied Research went through a rough time, Shani once more demonstrated his ability as an entrepreneur. “I looked into the activities of the Institute and found that some of them were old-fashioned and not useful anymore. We fired many people, but we helped them transfer to new positions.” Later in 1997, Shani was elected as president of the Israel Chemistry Society (ICS), right when the institution was facing economic collapse. The membership fee was very low, so he talked to the representatives of about 200 chemical industries about joining and supporting the ICS. “It was a great chance to revive the Society, especially considering that the following year we had the International Year of Chemistry, which gave us another boost.” One of the major achievements in his research was the confirmation that mating disruption of insect pests with sex pheromones leads to a significant increase in the pheromone titer by insect females in laboratory mating disruption studies. As a member and chairman of the chemistry curriculum in high school committee, he insisted on demonstrating how much chemistry is relevant to everyday life and strengthening the connection with chemical industry and related topics. Besides being a chemist and entrepreneur, Shani is an archeology enthusiast. When he was teaching at BGU, sometimes he would join a friend who was an archeologist for a few expeditions in the Sinai. Today he recalls all of these experiences – his (not so good) chemistry teacher in high school, the establishment of Ben- Gurion University, the road trips in America, his sabbatical year in New Zealand – with a gentle smile on his face. He points at the window of his living room, facing North Tel Aviv, and says he and his wife are enjoying the vibrant cultural scene of the White City. “When I meet high school students, I tell them the following,” he concludes. “There are two types of occupations: Either you create a product and make money from it (Natural Sciences and Engineering), or you don’t produce anything and play with other people’s money.” No wonder Shani met many students who originally aimed at studying business, economics, and law who ended up going into chemistry thanks to his persuasive arguments.

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