A Master of Nanoscience, He Explores the Possibilities of Science and Technology

Prof. Ishi Talmon

Yeshayahu (Ishi) Talmon may be officially a retiree, but he certainly has a lot on his plate.

When he’s not sitting on BSF’s Board of Governors (BOG), he can be found in any number of endeavors: Emeritus Professor at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Department of Chemical Engineering; Member of the Israel National Committee of Planning and Budgeting (the organization that oversees the entire budget of the Israeli higher education system.); and, Member of the steering committee overseeing grants for the United States National Science Foundation (NSF)-BSF partnership. And Talmon is an avid studier of orchids. (More on that later.)

All these roles have one thing in common: Talmon’s love of science, technology and education. Israel has a mandatory retirement age, but this does not stop Talmon from doing what he loves.

“Even with the mandatory retirement, some universities will keep you if you love your work, are able to raise research funds, and don’t mind not being paid by them,” Talmon said. “I have my pension, so I’m okay. I can stay at Technion as long as they tolerate me.”

Talmon says this with a slight, humble laugh that belies the fact that he is one of the world’s foremost leaders in the field of nanotechnology. Talmon himself recently explained his field this way:

“Nanotech is all around us and inside us. Our cells are enclosed within membranes that are about five nanometers thick. Nanotechnology can involve either organic or nonorganic materials. Some of our foods have nanoparticles that are organic. Many of our body liquids—blood, for instance—have nanoparticles. Nanoscience is the science of everything that happens on that very small scale. Now, technology is being developed to take that science and apply it,” he said.

Ishi Talmon in his lab. (Photo by Miki Koren, courtesy of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.)

Talmon grew up in Tel Aviv, and his fascination with science and technology began at a young age. He graduated summa cum laude from Technion. After getting his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, Talmon went back to Technion to teach. This was in 1979 – the year he also received his first BSF grant. Since then, he has received eight other BSF grants, the latest coming in 2016.

“BSF grants are small compared to many other grants. But especially to Israelis, they serve as a means for collaboration and mutual goals,” Talmon said. “The BSF grants have provided me with opportunities to work with very smart and talented scientists and researchers throughout the United States, and I am very grateful for that.”

In his numerous advisory roles, he reviews projects from many of today’s most promising Israeli researchers and scientists. At a time when the Israeli government has increased grant money for science – and when the NSF-BSF partnership is expanding and offering more opportunities for U.S.-Israel collaborations – Talmon sees this as an ideal time for Israel to expand its many scientific contributions.

“Science is a great tool to bring people of different nationalities, backgrounds and cultures together, and for Israeli scientists, the possibilities are larger than ever before,” Talmon said.

His term on the Israel National Committee will end in October (he is term limited), and with that, his BOG term will be up as well. Still, there is no doubt that Talmon will find ways to keep busy. When he’s not in his lab, on conference calls with fellow scientists, or attending some meeting (he admits that he sometimes loses track of the number of committee’s he’s involved with) he can often be found with a camera, examining another aspect of Israeli life – its wild orchids.

Why orchids?

In his spare time, Ishi Talmon loves photographing and examining Israel’s wild orchids. From left, a Serapias levantina and an Orchis galilea

“They are among the most developed family of flowers, and there is a huge variety of them,” Talmon said. “They are also very clever in the way they attract pollinators.”

For Talmon, the orchids are one more aspect of a world that lends itself to fascination and wonder.

“I have always been fascinated by what is all around us,” Talmon said, “and I am sure I always will be that way.”