Nobel Prize sparks 'brain drain' debate in Israel

Thu Oct 10, 2013 9:03am EDT
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By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Nobel Prize in chemistry has stirred up national pride in Israel but also concern on Thursday over a brain drain of some of its best and brightest to universities in the United States.

Two of the three scientists who won the prize on Wednesday hold Israeli citizenship, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to phone in his congratulations - long distance.

Both men, Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California and Michael Levitt of Stanford University School of Medicine, immigrated years ago to the United States after scientific work in Israel and became Americans.

That set Israel, a small country of eight million people that has seen 12 of its citizens take home a Nobel medal, talking about the ones that got away - scientists, doctors and other academics who have chosen to leave for foreign shores.

It's a real problem, a new study showed this week, even in a so-called "start-up nation" where homegrown talent has spawned innovative high-tech companies, some of them acquired for mega-millions by industry leaders such as Apple and Google.

The Taub Center for Social Studies in Israel found the emigration rate of Israeli researchers has become the highest among Western nations.

Citing statistics for 2008, it said there were 29 Israeli academics working in U.S. universities for every 100 remaining in Israeli institutions of higher education.

The country that came in second to Israel on the list, Canada, had a ratio of 11.5 researchers in the United States per every 100 back home.   Continued...

Michael Levitt, a professor of structural biology at Stanford University, gestures after speaking at a press conference in Stanford, California October 9, 2013.REUTERS/Stephen Lam