Category Archives: Science & Technology

Jews in the World of Science and Technology

Jew of the Week: Eytan Stibbe

Second Israeli in Space

Eytan Meir Stibbe (b. 1958) was born in Haifa to Jewish parents who had made aliyah from the Netherlands. He grew up partly in the United States. Stibbe joined the Israeli Air Force and became an F-16 fighter pilot. He served under the command of Ilan Ramon, who would go on to become Israel’s first astronaut. Stibbe served with distinction, and once tied a record by shooting down four enemy aircraft in a single battle over Lebanon in 1982. In another mission, he downed a total of five Syrian aircraft! Stibbe was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, and went on to teach at the IAF Flight Academy. Altogether, he served with the Israeli Air Force for some 43 years. Meanwhile, in 1984 he joined Israel Aircraft Industries to help modify and improve Israel’s own Lavi fighter jet. The following year, he co-founded Elar, a new Israeli military tech developer. When he left the company in 2011 and sold all of his shares, he had become a millionaire. Stibbe then turned his attention to his new Vital Capital Fund, which invests specifically in projects designed to alleviate poverty and clean up the environment. The Fund has helped bring sanitation, electricity, and healthcare to millions of people around the world, and has won numerous awards for its philanthropic work. Stibbe has always dreamed of following his mentor Ilan Ramon to space. He purchased a $55 million ticket on board a SpaceX craft, in collaboration with Axiom Space, which took off on April 8th for a ten-day mission. This is the first ever privately-funded human mission to space, and Stibbe is now only the second Israeli ever to go to space. He is not only a passenger, but also doing important scientific work, carrying out a total of 35 experiments, including on space radiation, optics, and quantum communications. Because of several delays, the Rakia mission (from the Biblical Hebrew word for outer space) ended up overlapping with Passover. And so, Stibbe took with him a Pesach seder kit prepared by Chabad, with shmurah matzah and four mini-cartons of grape juice (wine is prohibited on the ISS!) The return trip has also been delayed due to poor weather, and is expected to finally return to Earth this Sunday.

Passover: Fighting for Freedom

Words of the Week

Moses spoke not about freedom but about education. He fixed his vision not on the immediate but on the distant future, and not on adults but children. In so doing he was making a fundamental point: It may be hard to escape from tyranny but it is harder still to build and sustain a free society. In the long run there is only one way of doing so – to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilization you need education.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Jew of the Week: Victor Goldschmidt

Father of Geochemistry

Victor Moritz Goldschmidt (1888-1947) was born in Switzerland, the son of a Jewish-Austrian chemist. The family moved to Norway in 1901 and Goldschmidt went on to study chemistry and geology at what would become the University of Oslo. He got his Ph.D at just 23 years of age, and won a prestigious award for his dissertation. That same year he became an associate professor. In 1929, Goldschmidt became the chair of minerology at the University of Göttingen, but resigned six years later to protest anti-Semitism, returning to Oslo. One of his key discoveries was the mineralogical phase rule, followed by a longer list of the Geochemical Laws of the Distribution of Elements. For this ground-breaking work (and for literally writing the first textbook on geochemistry), he has been called the “Father of Geochemistry”. By 1942, the Nazis had occupied Norway and arrested Goldschmidt. He was taken to the Berg concentration camp where he fell severely ill. He was about to be deported to Auschwitz when a group of colleagues intervened and convinced the Nazis that his scientific knowledge would be useful to them. Goldschmidt was eventually able to escape to Sweden, and from there he was smuggled to England by a British intelligence unit. He assisted the British war effort, was elected to the Royal Society, and continued his work at the Macaulay Institute for Soil Research. He would return to Norway following the war, but died soon after. Goldschmidt received many awards, including being knighted by the king of Norway. The region of Goldschmidtfjella in Norway is named after him, as is the mineral goldschmidtite (KNbO3).

Words of the Week

The fact that the universe had a beginning, that it obeys orderly laws that can be expressed precisely with mathematics, and the existence of a remarkable series of “coincidences” that allow the laws of nature to support life – do not tell us much about what kind of God must be behind it all, but they do point toward an intelligent mind that could lie behind such precise and elegant principles.
– Renowned biologist Francis CollinsThe Language of God

Jews of the Week: The Minkowskis

Three Renowned Scientists

Hermann Minkowski

Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909) was born in what is now Lithuania, then part of Russia, and previously a part of Poland, to a wealthy Jewish family. His father was a merchant who paid for the construction of the famous Kovno Synagogue. In 1872, the Minkowskis fled the persecutions of the Russian Empire and settled in Germany. Hermann Minkowski went on to study mathematics and physics. In 1883 he won the Mathematics Prize of the French Academy of Sciences. He got his PhD two years later and taught at the Universities of Bonn, Konigsberg, Gottingen, and Zurich (where he was Albert Einstein’s teacher). Minkowski solved a number of big math problems, and actually improved upon Einstein’s theory of relativity, coming up with what is now called “Minkowski space-time”. He gave the mathematical proof for unifying space and time into a singular space-time continuum. Sadly, Minkowski met an untimely death at a young age from sudden appendicitis.

Oskar Minkowksi

His older brother was Oskar Minkowski (1858-1931), who studied biology and medicine. He went on to become a professor at the University of Breslau. (Since Jews were barred from holding such positions at the time, Minkowski had to nominally convert to Christianity.) In 1889, Minkowski did a number of operations on dogs and showed the link between the pancreas and diabetes. Together with Josef von Mering, Minkowski discovered how the pancreas controlled blood sugar levels, which later led to the discovery of insulin. Today, the Minkowski Prize is awarded each year for breakthroughs in diabetes research. His son was Rudolph Minkowski (1895-1976), who studied astronomy. He did important work dealing with supernovae, and later became the head of the famed Palomar Observatory, where he discovered a number of asteroids and nebulae. He also made important contributions in astrophysics, and won the Bruce Medal in 1961 for outstanding lifetime achievement in the field. The Minkowski Crater on the moon is named after him.

Can Jewish Homes Have Christmas Trees?

Words of the Week

In God there is no time or beginning to start, for He always existed and is
everlasting and in Him there is no beginning or end at all.
Rabbi Chaim VitalEtz Chaim