Category Archives: Science & Technology

Jews in the World of Science and Technology

Jew of the Week: Itzhak Bentov

The Amazing Life of Israel’s First Rocket Scientist

Itzhak Bentov

Itzhak Emery Bentov (1923-1979) was born in Czechoslovakia. After most of his family, including both parents, were killed in the Holocaust, Bentov settled on a kibbutz in the Negev. He soon joined the nascent Israeli Science Corps. In 1948, the corps was absorbed into the IDF as its official military research arm (heil hamadah). Although having no formal background or degree in science, Bentov quickly demonstrated his genius. Among other things, he designed Israel’s very first rocket, which was used successfully in the War of Independence. This marked the birth of Israel’s now world-famous military research and weapons development program. Out of the heil hamadah would be born RAFAEL, the organization tasked with developing Israel’s state-of-the-art rocketry, including the Iron Dome and the new David’s Sling missile system. Bentov moved to the US in 1954 and opened up his own workshop. There, he came up with dozens of new inventions, his most famous being the life-saving steerable heart catheter. Teaming up with a businessman, he founded Medi-Tech, which grew quickly and eventually became Boston Scientific, now a multi-billion dollar company with 29,000 employees worldwide. With dozens of patents for vital medical technologies under his belt, Bentov is considered a pioneer of the biomedical engineering industry. Full of great ideas, he was known as “Invention-a-Minute Ben”. At the same time, Bentov was a very spiritual person and was particularly drawn to the exploration of consciousness. After years of meditation and study, in 1977 he published his bestselling book, Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness. Many credit this book with launching the field of consciousness studies. Intriguingly, Bentov invented a seismograph which could record the vibrations of the aorta (the main artery coming out of the heart). He demonstrated that when a person meditates, the aorta’s vibrations tune to the beat of the heart, and synchronize with the brain’s alpha waves, and the Earth’s own magnetic pulsations. Bentov became a leading researcher on paranormal and supernatural phenomena, working alongside the renowned Dr. Andrija Puharich and Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell (who founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences to study the paranormal after returning from the moon and reporting a supernatural experience). In his second prized book, A Brief Tour of Higher Consciousness, Bentov synthesized the findings of modern physics and neurology with ancient mystical and Kabbalistic teachings. Bentov was famous for his vast array of knowledge, his ability to speak 11 languages, as well as his sense of humour. Sadly, he died in a plane crash at the young age of 56. His daughter recently published a book about his incredible life, called The Book of Telling: Tracing the Secrets of My Father’s Lives.

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Words of the Week

We are all part of a gigantic hologram called Creation, that is everybody’s Self… a cosmic game where nothing exists apart from you.
– Itzhak Bentov

Jews of the Week: Lederman and Ashkin

Two 96-Year Old Nobel Prize Winners

Leon Lederman in 1988

Leon Max Lederman (1922-2018) was born in New York to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants. After serving in World War II, he returned to work on a PhD in physics at Columbia University. He would become a distinguished physics professor there before taking a leave to join the world-renowned CERN in Switzerland. There, he discovered the muon neutrino in 1962. For this, as well as developing the “neutrino beam method”, he would later win the Nobel Prize in Physics. Lederman also discovered the bottom quark. In 1979, Lederman became the director of the prestigious Fermilab, running the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. After retiring in 1989, he was an occasional teacher at the University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was also president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1993 he published his bestselling book, The God Particle (coining that now-famous term). Lederman won countless awards and inspired a generation of physicists. Sadly, he was diagnosed with dementia, and the illness took a toll on both his health and his finances. He was forced to sell his Nobel Prize gold medal in order to pay for his medical bills. He passed away last week, at age 96.

Arthur Ashkin

Another 96-year old Jewish scientist who made headlines last week is Arthur Ashkin (b. 1922). He won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of optical tweezers. Like Lederman, Ashkin was born in New York to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants, and also attended Columbia University. During World War II, he was asked to stay in his lab to build magnetrons for US Army radars. After earning his PhD in nuclear physics at Cornell, Ashkin was hired by Bell Labs. He first worked on microwave technology, then moved on to lasers. After some two decades of work, Ashkin created a working optical tweezer, described as “an old dream of science fiction”. This allows tiny things like atoms, viruses, and cells to be grabbed, moved and manipulated. Today, it is an indispensable tool for countless research facilities around the world. Ashkin also co-discovered the photorefractive effect, and holds a whopping 47 patents. In addition to his many awards, he has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. His Nobel at age 96 makes him the oldest person ever to win the prize.

Words of the Week

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that, in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.
– Francis Crick, Nobel Prize-winning biologist