Tel Aviv University Tel Aviv University Students at Tel Aviv University. (Photo: Anatoli Axelrod/Flickr)

Universities to build $300M nanotechnology center

Tel Aviv University president calls the collaboration with Beijing school 'an unprecedented agreement in size and scope.'

A ceremony was held last month in Tel Aviv to officially open a joint collaboration between Tel Aviv University and Tsinghua University of Beijing to build a $300 million research center that will bring together scientists and students from both institutions. Research at the XIN center, which means "New" in Mandarin Chinese, will initially focus on nanotechnology, a growing field in both countries. It will later expand into developing solutions for problems in the areas of water treatment, environmental issues and medicine.

Funding for XIN ventures will be sought from both private and government sources. Approximately $100 million has already been raised, including $16 million from a fund set up by the Israeli investment group Infinity, which will focus on the commercialization of the center's projects. Chinese industries and alumni of Tsinghua University are expected to invest in the fund.

"It's an unprecedented agreement in size and scope,” Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter said in a statement. “It was built from the bottom up because it started with our scientists meeting and falling in love with each other.”

According to Klafter, TAU's ties with China began in 1995; the school has agreements with 30 Chinese institutions in fields from science and architecture to the humanities. “[T]he jewel in the crown is the agreement we are signing today with the prestigious Tsinghua University,” he told guests at the inauguration.

"Higher education across the globe is changing rapidly, and universities are exerting a new impact on the economy and society,” Tsinghua President Jining Chen said at the ceremony. “The aim of the XIN center is to cultivate the innovators and entrepreneurs of the future.”

This is the latest development in the burgeoning business relationship between Israel and China. Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics says that trade between the two countries grew to $8.4 billion last year, compared to $6.7 billion in 2010.

In May, some 350 Chinese officials and business leaders were in Israel for MIXiii, the Israel Innovation Conference. During the conference, Israel signed a bilateral cooperation agreement for industrial research and development with China’s Zhejiang Province, known as the “Silicon Valley” of China, as well as two other agreements to promote Israeli companies' participation in Chinese innovation parks.

The Chinese want access to new technology in fields like agrotech and water management, fields in which Israel is considered a leader, while Israel hopes to strengthen its position in the Chinese market.

Chen stressed the import of his country's partnership with Israel. "We have collaborations with many other universities around the world," he said, "but this is the first that is so in-depth and innovative."

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