During his studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Dr. Guy Bartal, the “new face” in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, worked nights guarding the Ministries of Housing, Policy and Science in east Jerusalem. In the middle of his third year one of the administrators, who saw his physics books spread out in front of him, approached him and asked: “Why are you wasting your time here? Go work in a lab in the university.”
“I am just an undergraduate student,” replied Guy.
“So you can work by the hour. I suggest you call Prof. Roni Agranat, of the Department of Applied Physics. He’s looking for good lab workers.”
Today it is clear to Dr. Bartal that he is indebted to this administrator – who worked in the Ministry of Science and dealt with research grants – for the change he made in his life. He called Prof. Agranat and indeed began working in his lab. He even did his graduate degree in electro-optics under the professor’s supervision. Toward the end of his graduate studies, Prof. Agranat set up a start-up company based on, among other things, Guy’s work, and created a circuit element for optical communication.
Guy worked in research and development in the company for three and a half years, and then fate had him meet another person who influenced his life – a friend of Prof. Agranat, research Prof. Moti Segev of the Technion. Moti consulted to Agranat’s company, and between the brilliant professor from Haifa and Guy, the young man from Zichron Yacov, personal and professional chemistry was created very quickly.
“Until I met Moti I hadn’t thought about academia as a potential career,” smiles Guy. “But Moti suggested that I do my doctorate under him. This was a difficult decision. I lived in Tel Aviv. I worked in Jerusalem in a job with a good salary, and I already had a young daughter. In the end I decided to do the doctorate – and then afterward return to industry.”
But fate, and the people who influenced his life, thought differently. “Moti saw a potential faculty member in each doctoral student. As a consequence he invested a lot in his students, sent them to many conferences and at the end convinced them to continue and complete a post-doctoral fellowship. It was the same with me – I did my post-doc at Berkeley.”
Dr. Bartal did his doctorate in nonlinear optics – the interaction between light and material. He tried to check how light affects the structure through which it propagates and how it affects the change it initiates.
Why is it important?
There are physical phenomena, linear and nonlinear, that are known in quantum systems but that are difficult to almost impossible to measure. The optical system provides a framework in which to check, and even sometimes to observe with one’s eyes, these phenomena. The best example is Anderson localization – a 50 year old model for explaining conduction/insulation in semiconductors, which won a Noble Prize and was observed directly for the first time in a periodic random lattice (as Anderson himself predicted) in Moti’s lab about five years ago.
In his post-doctoral work, Bartal focused on nano-optics and checked how light and waves propagate through structures that are smaller in size than the wave. For this, new types of material were needed, which were engineered artificially. They integrate within them metals and insulators.
In his coming years at the Technion, Dr. Bartal, now a faculty member, will study special wave phenomena and their application to these new materials, which enable wave conductance and maneuvering in a way that is impossible with natural materials. This field – plasmonics and artificial materials (metamaterials) – represents an innovative way to channel waves in dimensions smaller than the waves, while overcoming the limits of diffraction.
The research is experimental and theoretical, and the work will include use of different means – micro-electronic and nano-electronic devices for preparing samples (fabrication), a pulse laser and near-field scanning optical microscope (NSOM) to enable characterization, theorization and simulation. This equipment is very expensive and the Technion has invested in Dr. Bartal’s lab not just a little amount of money.
Nonetheless, this monetary investment has not been what brought Guy Bartal, his wife, Inbar, and their three children back to Israel. “It was clear to me that I am going to come back,” he says plainly. “Here is our home.”
Was it good being in Berkely?
It was wonderful. I had a good supervisor, Prof. Xiang Zhang. The group was cosmopolitan and I had a great work environment. These were four very pleasant years. This being said, we always knew that we were coming back, despite the temptations around us. Inbar and I were very much in agreement about this.
Dr. Bartal has only good words to say about his reception at the Technion. “I was happy to see that the Technion was very prepared to receive new faculty,” he says. “I got a budget to purchase advanced equipment and a budget to build a laboratory, and I am now involved in building it.”
He is very worried about the collapse of science teaching, about which he recently spoke to the Technion president, Prof. Peretz Lavie. “I look at the graduate students in Israel and in particular in the Technion, and see that many of them are from the Former Soviet Union,” he says. “They were taught at home: science is important. Israeli students are smart – the problem is the messages they are getting at home and at school. Unfortunately, youth in Israel today are getting a message that says that money is more important. We imported this from America and it’s a pity.”
In American it doesn’t work?
In engineering and in sciences, you mostly see foreigners. Their children are already going to business, like the rest of the Americans. Luckily for the Americans, there is an unending stream of the most talented students from China and India, and consequently the American universities are still the best in the world. We had a one-time stream like this from the Former Soviet Union, which strengthened the country very much, but what will happen in twenty years?