Skip to main content

Northwestern

Center for Water Research

Learn More

Blog

GET Water Blog #7: Start-Up Nation Central

Start-Up Nation Central

by Valeria Apolinario and Caroline Webster

For our last official stop in Israel, we headed to Start-Up Nation Central (SNC) in the business district of Tel Aviv. First impression: is this where an economics degree will get you? When we first entered the building, we were confronted by a large, colorful wall that displayed the focus and mission of SNC. The fifth-floor office floor was mostly glass with black accents. We were directed into a meeting room that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea and a bowl of snacks was scattered along the table. Needless to say, it was the most modern site of the trip.

The focus and mission of Start-Up Nation Central

Our speaker, Uri Gabai, greeted us warmly and began his presentation on the success of Israel as a nation of innovation. From the statistics that Uri presented, it was evident that Israel is very impressive. Since the 1990s, start-ups in technology and innovation have exploded in both number and ingenuity. This is partially due to the amount of investment; Israel invests around 4.5% of its GDP in national start-up Research & Development, 1% more than any other developed country besides South Korea. Investment in Israeli technology has led to creativity and innovation in areas including agritech, fintech ( technology used in finances), and artificial intelligence, which has become the focus of hi-tech start-ups in Israel. SNC’s mission is to connect these start-ups with governmental organizations and other businesses. These industries are growing exponentially and according to Uri, artificial intelligence is undoubtedly the future. In fact, it is already being widely used today. We had already seen the process of machines running independently in a manufacturing plant at Netafim, where there were hardly any workers.

Aside from their economic and technological success, the demographics of the people working in these start-ups in Israel remain mostly homogenous. Around 75% of hi-tech start-up employees are non-ultra orthodox Jewish male. Less than 25% are female and very few are ultra orthodox Jewish or Arab. As a group of very diverse, mostly female trekkers in STEM, this was not a pleasing statistic to see. As we absorbed the meaning of the statistic, Uri delivered this message to us: be bold. There is no reason why this should be the case, as women have equal creativity, knowledge, and intelligence to bring to every field. We need to push forward and demand our place in the future.

Uri Gabai, Start-Up Nation Central, addresses the GET Trekkers

Uri’s second message to us was to never stop learning. It was an inspiring part of his presentation, and something we all hope to live by in our future studies and career. We are all rising sophomores and juniors and have time left in our formal education. But after we graduate, we should never stop learning. We should never stop asking questions and our curiosity should never wane. With so many opportunities to learn and grow, stagnation is impossible.

Our main take away from Start-Up Nation? The hi-tech world is advancing daily, and it is up to us to dive in and immerse ourselves. We will not just become part of the story: we will write it.

The GET Trekkers strike a pose

 

 

Brief Introduction about Netafim:

Netafim is a global leader in irrigation solutions for sustainable agriculture. Founded in 1965 by farmers for farmers, Netafim developed the world’s first drippers, creating a paradigm shift toward precision agriculture. Since then, Netafim has introduced breakthrough drip lines that irrigate fields with challenging topographies and groundbreaking fertigation systems that have reshaped precision irrigation to grow more with less. In 2003, the company went digital with its automated fertigation system and crop management software to help growers improve the quality of their produce. We continue to revolutionize irrigation in more than 110 countries through a worldwide network of 29 subsidiaries and 17 manufacturing plants – enabling farmers to grow more with less. Please visit Netafim’s website to learn more: https://www.netafim.com/en/

 

GET Water Blog #6: “Traditional, Not Primitive:” Project Wadi Attir and Sustainable Desert Cultivation

“Traditional, Not Primitive:” Project Wadi Attir and Sustainable Desert Cultivation

By Kelly Gebman

At the beginning of our visit, a Bedouin activist and founding member of Wadi Attir gave us an introduction to the Bedouin people and their recent cultural evolution. The word “Bedouins” describes the collection of small nomadic Arab groups that have inhabited North Africa and the Middle East for well over a thousand years. Pressures to modernize began for the Bedouins with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Bedouin item

The Bedouins as a whole have gone through a rapid metamorphosis since Israel’s start. In the last century, they have slowly become dependent on the welfare state and are still working to reverse the damage. The Bedouins were traditionally a communal and self-sufficient people. In the last 50 years, they have been rapidly thrust into the Israeli economy and have struggled to adapt to subsequent health issues and the need for job specialization. Disillusionment with modern society caused many Bedouins’ turn to smuggling and religious extremism, both Muslim and Jewish. Programs to provide mainstream educational opportunities and vocational training for Bedouins struggled to make meaningful strides until some Bedouin townships had to spearhead accommodations specifically tailored at providing the resources necessary for success. These programs have since had widespread success, especially as 62% of the population is under 18. Even more impressively, 33% of Bedouin engineering students at Israeli universities are female, as opposed to the national average of 25%. Bedouin social services and shared spaces with Israelis have helped to break down cultural barriers with mainstream Israeli society.

The Bedouin community that we visited featured permanent housing and meeting spaces equipped with all the comforts of modern life from electricity and running water to instant coffee and packaged muffins. Our host made a point of contrasting this modernity with the way that some Bedouins of the Negev live in “unrecognized villages.” The Israeli government considers these settlements to be illegal and denies the inhabitants running water and electricity, while also pressuring the same communities to integrate into mainstream society. The first Bedouin town was recognized in 1968, 20 years after the establishment of Israel and 50% of Bedouin communities remain unrecognized. The road to progress starts for most Bedouins with legitimization by the government. Outreach programs extend to those living in unrecognized villages, but success rates suffer as residents struggle to overcome the even greater cultural
divide between themselves and the rest of Israeli society. Our host stressed the fact that although many Bedouins live very simple lives, their communities are “traditional, not primitive.” Their simple way of life and respect for the past is not something that should be looked down upon, especially in a country so rich in history and tradition.

The Wadi Attir project is a groundbreaking approach to sustainable desert agriculture combining traditional Bedouin methods with cutting edge technology. It is a partnership between the Bedouins of the Negev and the Sustainability Laboratory. The main initiative is an integrated technology system utilizing wind and solar energy, state-of-the-art drip irrigation system, bio-gas production system, wastewater treatment system, and composting facility.

The surrounding region

There are many other aspects of the Wadi Attir Project. Bedouin desert cultivation methods and natural healing remedies are documented and commercialized for sale in domestic and
international markets. Herding culture is preserved through the education of modern methods. We were lucky enough to see this in action when a goat gave birth during our visit. We also toured some beautiful Bedouin fields filled with Keystone species that are preparing the soil for more lucrative crops, enriching biodiversity, and combating desertification. Our guide referred to this process as “ecosystem engineering.” Women in the community are empowered through agricultural education and community advancement. The last part of the project is to educate
local students and tourists on Bedouin culture and innovation. We ended our visit with a wonderful Bedouin meal cooked by some women from the community. The Wadi Attir project is uplifting Bedouin communities of the Negev with great success and truly embodies the marriage of innovation and tradition that is so characteristic of Israel as a whole.

The GET Water group at Project Wadi Attir

 

Bedouin meal cooked by locals

GET Water Blog #5: Visiting Israel’s Water Treatment Facility at Shafdan

Visiting Israel’s Water Treatment Facility at Shafdan

By Caroline Webster and Grace Wanjiku Wainaina

The Shafdan Wastewater Treatment centre is located on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. The main goals for the treatment centre are to minimize environmental pollution and protect the state’s limited water resources. The centre comprises a complex inter-region system that collects, treats and reclaims wastewater in urban areas and industrial zones in the Dan Region.  All the wastewater is collected from the drains and transportation begins at the Reading Pumping Station, north of Tel Aviv.

The treatment process involves intensive infiltration through the use of sand dunes. These sand dunes are ideal to use because of their high porosity. The first stage of infiltration makes the waste water highly concentrated. This concentrate then undergo reverse osmosis in a valved system to eliminate the concentration.

The wastewater finally undergoes purification which involves the use of natural biological processes that are essential for removing and decomposing microorganisms in the water. It was worth noting that the surrounding vegetation serves as a source of oxygen for the disintegration of microorganisms. One of the byproducts of this process is biogas, which is a valuable source of revenue. Stainless steel and plastic are the main materials used for the pipes as it is robust and withstands rust.

All of the reclaimed water is supplied for agricultural use. The treated wastewater is sent to the Negev Desert. More than 60% of agriculture in the Negev is irrigated by Shafdan water. As part of the plans for future expansion, the centre is looking into more research and upscale of the infiltration system currently in place. More research will be done to see this into effect. The expansion will be necessary because the state’s population is increasing and therefore there’s more need to meet the increasing demand. However, one challenge with the expansion will be the limited availability of land. Shafdan is not very far from the Tel Aviv, therefore the growing population will also require more land yet the centre needs to expand to meet the higher water demands.

At the plant, we were greeted at the R&D center to see the groundbreaking technology that is currently being developed to improve the process. Among these projects include porous ceramic filters, which would increase flux and decrease cost. As students in STEM, it was fascinating for us to see the immense work behind such an important process.

Overall, Shafdan was smelly and hot, and five days into our trip, we were fading. But the ingenuity shown and commitment to efficiency was inspiring. It is proof that where there are limited resources, people are capable of using everything available to them. Israel is so limited that not even waste is wasted.

Tertiary treated wastewater vs. black untreated water. It looks as if it came straight from a spring!

 

Our guide explaining a diagram of the treatment process. Wastewater is filtered, then separated in a huge centrifuge tank. It is then pumped into a large pool above an aquifer, allowing the water to penetrate through sand in the final treatment step. It is then ready for irrigation.

 

Project at the R&D center

 

Pipe for wastewater intake

 

Wastewater treatment pools. The facility is enormous!

 

GET Water Blog #4: King Hezekiah’s Tunnel

King Hezekiah’s Tunnel

By Alexandro Reyes 

The Trekkers descend into King Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Drawing of Jerusalem’s Ancient Water Supply

On Sunday, September 15th, we left Masada and made our way to Jerusalem, where we would learn about the water systems there. Upon arrival, our tour guide was quick to enlighten us on the history of Jerusalem through archeological evidence collected over the past centuries. The main highlight of this tour was entering Hezekiah’s Tunnel, also known as the Siloam Tunnel. This tunnel is a water channel underneath the City of David which is in east Jerusalem. For a city to thrive in this time period, water, food, and protection from outside threats were essential for success. King David had the rule over all the village of Jerusalem and was able to fortify his city shortly after. The city had walls protecting its citizens and housing; however, their water supply lied shortly outside the city walls. King Hezekiah saw this as a potential weakness as he was preparing for an attack from the Assyrians; an enemy force could use the Gihon spring as a source of water during the attack or could even contaminate it, which would severely cripple the City of David. He devised a plan to move the water from the spring closer to the city through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. 

This tunnel is about 580 yards long and had about a 0.06 percent gradient, which allowed the waters from the Gihon Spring to flow within the city walls. The tunnel was constructed by two teams, each one starting at different ends of the tunnel and then meeting in the middle. Based on the path of the tunnel, experts concluded that there were many directional mistakes when constructing it. The tour guide emphasized the difficult feat of excavating such a precise tunnel with such little technology at their disposal, which is still not understood fully. Some experts believe that the two groups of workers were directed from above by echoes in the tunnels generated by hammerings on the surface.

 

We all walked through this tunnel, some were excited and others … slightly frightened. The water inside was fairly cold and was about two feet deep at its deepest. Since humans were on average shorter, the tunnels were carved only to suit the height of fairly small people. This made walking through the tunnel slightly difficult if you were over 6’0” like myself. The walls of the tunnels were moist and the ceiling of the tunnel ranged from about 5’ to 15’. It was estimated that the tunnel was fully excavated in a little under a year. It was worked on 24/7 until it was complete, and workers got through about three to four feet a day. This tunnel is proof of the engineering ingenuity exhibited by the people of the City of David. 

 

The City of David

 

…and the tunnel gets even smaller

GET Water Blog #3: Ancient Water System Models and the Dead Sea

Ancient Water System Models and the Dead Sea

By Deogratias Mukuralinda and Hannah Paridis

 

The 2019 GET Trekkers at Masada National Park

Though we took the cable car going up, we were out of breath; not because of the scorching heat or the vertigo (it was high!), but because of the beautiful sight of the Negev desert and the Dead Sea. It truly was breathtaking.

On day 3 of the GET Israel, we visited Masada, which means strong foundation in Hebrew. 400m above the Dead Sea, this was a fortress built in 30BCE for King Herod as his resort, chill place, and vacation home in today’s terms. The Zealots managed to gain control of Masada in 68CE, and 960 of them inhabited the mountaintop under Roman siege until they were finally taken over in 73CE.

It was interesting to hear Masada’s strategic advantages. It is a rock cut out from the rest of the mountains, so enemy attacks were harder, as asserted by Josephius Flavius’s accounts. Much of what we know about Masada is what is documented by Flavius, the Roman general leading the siege of Masada, but much of the archaeology corroborates his accounts. From famous mass suicide of the 960 Jews on Masada, who preferred to suffer the ultimate freedom of death than live as Roman slaves, the mountain now represents heroism to Israelis and is the site of a ceremony for the compulsory service in the Israeli Defense Force.

However, as this is a water trek, let us focus on water. The Masada settlement seemed to be in a perfect spot because the settlers could easily get water from the Dead Sea. But if you know anything about the Dead Sea, you should know how salty it is. Thus, they had to find other ways to get water. The desert region has very few incidents of rainfall during the summer, in which flash floods cascade down the mountains. The settlers established series of hydraulic aqueducts for the main source of water that would both feed from storms into the many cisterns they carved into the rock. One of the biggest cisterns we saw could hold 4000m3 of water.

Water System Model at Masada

These settlers used water for all sorts of things but one interesting thing was baths. The bath remains clearly show us that King Herod was indeed bougie — he had both cold and hot baths cut into the rock, expertly engineered millennia before electricity even existed!

The visit to Masada national park was over. We went down in the cable car but the temperature and humidity only rose to no end. So the move was to dip that heat off into the Dead Sea. Or should we say “float off the heat” to be more accurate. The day continued at the Dead Sea Premier, both a cosmetic and restaurant joint. We ate the authentic Israeli food buffet style: chicken kebab, pepper with rice and meat, peter bread and hummus. Elie and Tzahi were friends with the resort owners, as they are with all the people we come across on our tours, so they took good care of us.

Then we bought the famous Dead Sea mud to cleanse our skin. We went in the sea to get wet and then proceeded to rub the mud all over us. We stood in the sun for 10 minutes waiting for the mud to dry and then washed off in the sea. The sea is so salty that you need to immediately take a shower in “sweet water” so your body doesn’t dehydrate.

Some of us took home mud and salt products as gifts and to remember our experience. A more authentic souvenir were the salt crystals from the bottom of the Dead Sea that form because the water is so oversaturated with salt that it precipitates into spiky balls.

A tiresome day indeed but the fun was almost too much to handle. Grateful for Prof. Aaron Packman and Prof. Elie and our awesome driver Tzahi, who were complementing everything with historic and engineering point of views, making the day highly educational. And the rest of the trek members for making it a blast!

Eser and Echat-esre out!

The GET group inside one the largest water cisterns that Masada had

Posing in front a model of Masada

 

GET Water Blog #2: Revolutionizing Sustainable Agriculture

Revolutionizing Sustainable Agriculture

by Morgan Gass and Helena Freire Haddad

Trekkers travelled to the Jojoba Hatzrim plantation to learn about sustainble agriculture and drip irrigation

For the second half of our first whole day in Israel, we headed just east of Be’er Sheva to visit the Kibbutz Hatzerim. The focus was on sustainable agriculture practices, and we visited the Jojoba Hatzrim plantation as well as the global drip irrigation company Netafim.

When we first drove into the kibbutz, our guide, Lior Mark, welcomed us to the vast and green jojoba plantation of Jojoba Hatzerim, contrasting to the dry desert climate that surrounds it. Over time, Hatzerim has adapted the crops and growing techniques to allow plants to thrive in a harsh environment. Now, Hatzerim is the world’s largest producer of the nutrient-dense oil coveted by cosmetic companies such as Estee Lauder and Loreal.

Lior Mark

We learned that this large-scale production, in an arid region that only receives few millimeters of rainfall every year, was made possible by innovative water management and technologies developed by the kibbutz’s own company, Netafim. Back in 1965, the company developed the agricultural technique “drip irrigation” that enables growing crops with minimal water use and waste. Tubes beneath the crops drip water directly onto the roots of the plants using their patented dripper technology, a small plastic mechanism inside the tubing that administers the water. This technique decreases evaporation waste and water overuse by not having water sprayed into the air or flooding fields that use more water than optimal and are prone to evaporative waste.

The trekkers journey to Netafim

This process was completely new to us, and we were shocked to learn that it has been implemented in over 110 countries, with over 150 billion dripper mechanisms sold. The technology rose from the critical water demand Israel faced at the time to enable the country to grow crops in the high temperature and dry conditions that make up most of its landmass.

In the tour, Mark expressed that the companies philosophy is that global water crises are inevitable due to water mismanagement, overuse in agriculture, explosive population growth, and global climates changing, and their technique of growing crops will be a necessity in a future where more countries are faced to address a need to grow their crops with less water.

We then went on a tour into the facilities that make the tubing and dripper mechanisms for both Israel and their international clients. This highly automated process showed the high specificity and development that their product has undertaken. We met with the lead Research and Development engineer of the company, and he explained the meticulous and individualized approach they take to each new farm that purchases their technology, such as researching the crop, climate, and other facts, and even going to the farm to take soil samples to ensure the best variation of their dripper is employed for optimal yields and longevity. Netafim is a company that revolutionized large-scale agriculture, and they make sure to aid in those using their technology to reap the full benefits of the advancement.

Hatzerim Kibbutz

 

 

Brief Introduction about Netafim:

Netafim is a global leader in irrigation solutions for sustainable agriculture. Founded in 1965 by farmers for farmers, Netafim developed the world’s first drippers, creating a paradigm shift toward precision agriculture. Since then, Netafim has introduced breakthrough drip lines that irrigate fields with challenging topographies and groundbreaking fertigation systems that have reshaped precision irrigation to grow more with less. In 2003, the company went digital with its automated fertigation system and crop management software to help growers improve the quality of their produce. We continue to revolutionize irrigation in more than 110 countries through a worldwide network of 29 subsidiaries and 17 manufacturing plants – enabling farmers to grow more with less. Please visit Netafim’s website to know more: https://www.netafim.com/en/

GET Water Blog #1: Continuing to Make the Desert Bloom

Continuing to Make the Desert Bloom

by Valeria Apolinario and Carmen Awin-Ongya

The first visit in our GET Trek to Israel was to the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, one of the three institutes part of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at Ben Gurion University. The visit was in the southern desert region of Israel known as the Negev. We traveled there from our hotel in Be’er Sheva, taking notice of the beautiful scenery as we made our way across the desert.

Noam Weisbrod, Professor of Hydrology at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research

When we entered the fairly modern facility, we encountered a gorgeous cat, the first of many. We were ushered into an instruction room and provided Israeli cookies and coffee from a machine that would randomly go off throughout the afternoon. Our first guest speaker was the director of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes, Noam Weisbrod. He spoke about the institute’s dedication to findings solutions and better understanding the challenges of the Negev, which could be applied internationally.

Our next speaker was Shai Arnon, whose research focuses on water quality of streams, stream restoration, contaminant transport, and micro-plastics in the streams. When we asked him about the research process, he spoke about two paths: one being that the science the research is focused on will get published and could have practical use after 10 to 20 years or that research can work with industry to come up with practical applications. He gave us an example of the implementation of an online water quality monitoring system in a stream that allows for early detection of low water quality to warn those doing activities downstream, such as kayakers. This occurred using the research that he had done in previous years. He then took us to his lab and we saw the modeling systems that he uses to create conditions in streams to mimic those in nature.

One of Shai Arnon’s, Senior Lecturer, research modeling stations at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.

After a quick break, we were introduced to Edo Bar-Zeev. His research is on applied environmental biology with a focus on biofilms and viruses. He gave us an anecdote about an injured motorcyclist who had an infection in his leg. The motorcyclist had two choices, to either amputate his leg or undergo a lesser-known treatment, phage therapy. He chose the latter and saved his leg. Dr. Bar-Zeev researches the mechanical aspect of a phage attacking a bacterium. He uses nanoscale resolution of images done in vitro and measures the force applied by the imaging needle, which we were luckily able to see when we visited his lab. When asked about the application of his research, he stated that it was for the understanding of fundamental science and that if it would be applied, it would be in the medical field as it would be nearly  impossible to apply it to biofilms in wastewater management.

We then met Naftali Lazarovitch, who is from the French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands. His research focus is on water flow and solute transport in the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum to increase agricultural productivity and maintain environmental sustainability. He works with sensors and numerical models to create visual models of the effects of water flow and solute transport to better understand the constraints on plants for desert farming. However, the most important lesson that he taught us was at the beginning of his lecture where he shared his personal story of perseverance and stated that “you can start almost with nothing and in the end, you can be a professor.”

Our final speaker, Jack Gilron, briefly spoke about his research in applying desalinated water for agriculture, with a focus on electrodialysis membranes that can retain calcium and magnesium ions which would be better for crops. He then took us to the Zuckerberg Pilot Plant for Desalination and Water Treatment, where he showed us a spiral membrane commonly used at desalination plants in Israel. Next to this was a system using a specific spiral membrane that reduces nitrates in water; this system will eventually be scaled up and deployed in Ghana and India.

Overall, we had an amazing time getting to know the Zuckerberg institute and our five speakers. This experience has opened our minds to the research being done in the Negev, realizing that the desert, as well as scientific ingenuity, continues to bloom there.

Carmen Awin-Ongya and Valeria Apolinario

 

 

2019 GET Water Student Travel Blogs

Israel – Global Engineering Trek (GET): Water Program Description

This summer, a group of Northwestern freshmen and sophomores traveled to Israel as part of Northwestern University’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy (ISEN) Global Engineering Trek (GET) Water trip to Israel. Water management is a highly interdisciplinary field, and all majors, particularly in engineering, science, and social policy, will contribute to addressing critical water needs in the 21st century. Based on the successful GET Sustainability program model in Germany, the GET Water program enables Northwestern freshmen and sophomores to see Israel’s critical water infrastructure, experience its culture of innovation, and tour diverse historical and archaeological sites. GET Water features an immersive program in three regions in Israel: the populous and vibrant Tel Aviv / Dan region, the temperate and historical region around Haifa and the Northeast, and the Negev Desert in the south.

As part of the GET Trek to Israel, students will explore transboundary water issues, ancient infrastructure, and modern emerging solutions through discussions with diverse water experts, explorations of technological innovation, and visits to major water utilities, infrastructure facilities, and research centers. Trekkers will also gain exposure to global internship, research, and job opportunities including those related to startups, water desalination, water reuse, and hyper-efficient precision agriculture systems.

This blog series will feature the Trekkers’ report on each site visit and their interactions with the experts and speakers they meet on the GET Water trip. These blog posts will also feature their various student activities and highlight the key information gained.

2019 GET Water Trekkers pose with Dr. Elie Rekhess (center)