Comprehensive coverage

Prof. Israel Dostrovsky 2010-1918

His scientific ability led him to head the Weizmann Institute of Science, the institute that gave Israel a global reputation and scientific status that exceeded the size of the small country, writes the country's president Shimon Peres, about who was the fifth president of the Weizmann Institute

Prof. Israel Dostrovsky, 50s of the 20th century. Photo: Weizmann Institute
Prof. Israel Dostrovsky, 50s of the 20th century. Photo: Weizmann Institute

Prof. Israel Dostrovsky, the fifth president of the Weizmann Institute of Science and one of the institute's founders, passed away recently. Prof. Haim Harari, the eighth president of the Institute, says in his memory: "Israel Dostrovsky, who passed away at the age of 91, on the Feast of Tabernacles, embodied in one fascinating personality all the high points of the establishment of the State of Israel and its development. He combined innumerable scientific fields in his scientific work, and worked in wonderful harmony between scientific curiosity for its own sake and the utilization of science for the benefit of man.

"He was born in Russia a few weeks after the end of the First World War and immigrated to Israel as a baby, with his father, a world-renowned dermatologist. In his childhood and his election in Jerusalem, he combined a love for science from a young age, curiosity for the secrets of nature, a practical and useful approach to technology, a socialist education for fulfillment in the kibbutz, and activity from a young age in the Hagana. At some point he decided in favor of academic studies, and devoted himself to his love of chemistry as the subject of his studies, in London. In a certain way, even then, his special personality combined all the different faces that were essential to the creation of the country on the way: pioneering, security, education, science and international relations.

"After World War II, when it was decided to establish the Weizmann Institute with five scientific departments, the young Dostrovsky was among the scientists invited to join the institute. The heads of the five departments were supposed to be great and senior Jewish scientists from different countries who took on the task. While the well-equipped laboratories and the beautiful building await their occupants, the war of liberation broke out, and only two of the five designated scientific leaders dared to come to the besieged country fighting for its life. The leadership of the other three departments was entrusted, boldly and perhaps out of choice, to three young Israeli scientists, around the age of 30: the brothers Aharon and Ephraim Katzir-Kachelsky and Israel Dostrovsky. With the passing of Israel, we said goodbye to the last of the founders of the Weizmann Institute.

"While the institute is debating between an emphasis on basic research and between going to useful research subjects, Dostrovsky showed the right way, still without turning it into the ideology that accompanies the institute to this day. He excelled in doing basic research in the field of radioactive isotopes that were then beginning to be used in many fields of science, medicine and technology, and at the same time he initiated a long series of useful studies arising from the basic discoveries, and contributed a lot even then to the IDF Science Corps and Israel's security.

"Dostrovsky moved quickly and skillfully from field to field, raising generations of students who were involved in, among other things, geology, hydrology, physical chemistry, brain research, archeology, environmental science, solar energy, nuclear magnetic resonance, particle physics and astrophysics, and much more. He also established within the institute the semi-industrial facility for separating oxygen isotopes and producing a special type of heavily oxygenated water used for medical tests. This facility was the pioneer of the industrial uses and exploitation of the patents of the Weizmann Institute, a subject in which the institute currently occupies one of the most prominent places in the world, and is a subject of imitation and envy of the best of the science institutes.

"Dostrovsky served in the second half of the 60s as the Director General of the Atomic Energy Commission, and in this position achieved tremendous achievements, which are an important part of the history of the State of Israel. Upon his return to the Weizmann Institute, he was first appointed vice president, and two years later was elected the fifth president of the Weizmann Institute. He served during the difficult period of the Yom Kippur War, and the freeze on construction, development and budgets that followed. Nevertheless, his period was distinguished by accelerated development, by laying the foundations for many subjects and special work patterns at the Institute. After the end of his term as president of the Institute, Dostrovsky was appointed Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Defense, and in this position also left his mark on the defense research and development systems that received a strong boost after the Yom Kippur War.

"As someone who never rests on his laurels, Dostrovsky returned to the Weizmann Institute and put on the agenda of the institute, and to a large extent also of the state, the issue of solar energy and the need to utilize it for diverse purposes, and not just for heating water. On his initiative, the Sun Tower was erected at the Weizmann Institute, and was created at the ever-expanding Nuclear Institute, even these days, by scientists engaged in energy research. Later, the Department of Environmental Sciences was established, headed by some of his students.

"And as if to close a circle and return to the most basic research imaginable, he made a decisive contribution to the development of a fascinating method for discovering elusive particles that come from the sun, penetrate through any material, and can only be detected in huge underground laboratories. He and his colleagues were senior partners in a successful experiment conducted in a multinational laboratory under the Apennines in Italy. This experiment was able, with the help of the method proposed by Dostrovsky, to identify and count neutrino particles created in the sun, and clarified important issues regarding the properties of these particles.

"Dostrovsky received quite a few honors, awards and honorary degrees, but these publicly expressed only a small part of the appreciation and fame he deserved. As someone who founded and managed a scientific department already at the age of 30, Dostrovsky remains eternally young, full of revolutionary and original ideas, listens with openness to every suggestion, and believes that great tasks should be carried out by talented and original young people, and not by those who have gained a lot of experience by having already failed in many tasks.

"I had the privilege of knowing him well and appreciating him, bordering on admiration, for about 40 years. As someone who knew many of the greatest scientists in the world, quite a few international leaders of nations, countries and organizations, most of the leaders of Israel and all the heads of the Weizmann Institute since its establishment (except Weizmann himself), I dare to state that Israel Dostrovsky was one of the half dozen most impressive personalities I had the privilege of meeting and recognize in my lifetime. The man was a unique combination of wisdom, originality, modesty, diligence, determination, positive audacity, entrepreneurship, devotion to duty, talent, faith in man and his goodness, and love for the State of Israel. I'm afraid they don't 'produce' such personalities anymore."


A lever to strengthen the country The president of the country, Shimon Peres, sent a letter of condolences: "Prof. Israel Dostrovsky proved that to be a scientist, a broad mind is not enough, but a brave character is also needed, since the great scientist does not submit to conventions. He begins to discover things because he develops his own vision and is not frightened by a new image. Prof. Dostrovsky was a brilliant and independent scientist, and he also paved his own path. He saw science as a key hope for Israel, which has little land and few natural treasures, and he looked for hidden capabilities also in the field of isotope research. His development in the field of oxygen isotope separation received worldwide attention. It was, in fact, Israel's first scientific export.

"His scientific ability led him to head the Weizmann Institute of Science, the institute that gave Israel a global reputation and scientific status that exceeded the size of the small country. Israel Dostrovsky did not shut himself up in his scientific ivory tower. He also established our science unit at the beginning of nuclear energy research. "Not all scientists were quick to identify with the scientific effort in the field of security. Many feared that this would harm their international status. Israel Dostrovsky did not feel that way. He did not see science as a refuge from the country's burning needs, but as a legitimate lever for power, with the aim of repelling an enemy and achieving peace." To a large extent, Prof. Dostrovsky was a man who hid himself from the tools, but his tools were solid and excellent, and therefore were also pioneers in the field of science of the country Israel. He was a path teacher, a teacher of halacha and a teacher of students. His teaching will continue to follow the ways of Israel, its scientific practice and the generation of scientists that followed him."

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.