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November 30, 1984 - Image 55

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-11-30

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Above left: "Setting up a research institute in a backward land" — Rehovot in the early Thirties. Above right: Dr. and Mrs. Weizmanniwith Dr. E. Bergmann, first director of the Sidi Institute.


Ab .ove: M. W. Weisgal and H. Davies with Dr. Weizmann in his laboratory. Below: The Sieffs with the early staff

seemed to me the right place for a
beginning. It was the seat of the
Agricultural Experimental . Station;
we would have on the premises
botanists and plant physiologists
who were already well acquainted
with the country. There remained
the.. question of means – and of
getting, together - a group. Of' scien-
tists:.. The reader will recall how,'.in
the early I litter years in Germany,
large numbers of first-rate scientists
were driven-- from the German uni-
versities. Some of them, like 'Dr.
Ernst David Bergmann, his brother
Felix and other chemists of - distinc-
tion, joined our group. With these,
and with my old colleague Mr.
Harold Davies, with whom I have
now been•working for over 35 years,
we began the work.
• "The whole experiment of setting
up a research institute in a country as
scientifically backward as Palestine
is beset with pitfalls. There is, first,
the risk of falling into the somewhat
neglectful habits of oriental coun-
tries; a second danger is• that of
losing a sense of proportion because
of the lack of standards of compari-
son. One is always the best chemist
in Egypt or in Palestine when there
are no others. Also, if one turns out a
piece of work which in America or
England would be considered mod-
est enough, one is apt to overevalu-
ate it simply because it has been
turned out in difficult circumstances.
The standard and quality of the work
must be watched over most critically
and carefully. Many of the publica-
tions issued by scientific institutions
in backward countries are very much
below the level required elsewhere,
but the contributors of these publica:
tions are very proud of them simply
because the local level is-not high.
"I made up my mind that this sort
of atmosphere should not prevail in
the Sieff Institute, and that it should
live up to the highest standards.
There were Several ways of combat-
ting the dangers I have indicated.
First, there was the proper selection
of the staff, and the infusion into it of
the right spirit – that of maintaining
the highest quality. Every member
was enjoined to take his time over
his piece of work, and not merely
have publication in view. Second, it
became our policy to keep the work-
ers in the Institute in touch with what
was being • done in Europe and
America; not merely by providing a

good library, where they could read
of the researches of others in scien-
tific journals, but by arranging per-
sonal contacts. We made it a rule to
invite scientists froimother institutes
to come and lecture in Rehovot,
spending a few. weeks in the labor-
atories, sharing their experiences
with us, and criticizing the efforts of
the young research workers.
"We also worked' in the reverse
direction, sending our workers
abroad, to the universities. Of I I*
senior workers, four have been out
in Paris, Ottawa, New York, Chica-
go and Berkeley. As one returns.
another leaves, and so continuous
contact is maintained with the great
scientific world. The building and -
organization of • the Sieff Institute.
was, even for Palestine, a unique
case of pioneering. Apart from the
psychological difficulties of main-
taining a high standard, there was
the physical difficulty of scientific
"There were problems of another
kind. When the Institute was built,
on the piernises of the experimental
station, it looked at first as if we were
going to sink into a sea of sand. The
buildings of the station were quite
neat, as far as their external appear-
ance was concerned, but there was
not a tree or a blade of grass to adorn
the vast courtyard in which the• two
institutions were housed. and I had
before my eyes the green lawns of
English and American universities
and scientific academies, and
thought that we would be showing a
lamentable lack of esthetic feeling if
we merely planked down the build-
ings and did nothing with the sur-
roundings. I therefore set about
building roads to connect one part of
the institution with another. to plant
trees and lay Out lawns...
"The Sieff Institute has gradually
won a good name for itself. both in
the scientific and Jewish world... I
feel that on the whole the standard of
our publications is high, and our
papers have always been accepted in
the best journals of England and
America. The name of Rehovot is
familiar to every research chemist in
these countries. and we receive quite
a few applications from scientists
who wish to come and work with us.
"The Sieff Institute has proved to
be only a beginning."

Excerpts from Chaim Wei:mann's
autobiography Trial & Error.

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