The Scholars in Israel Collaboration Fund: supporting global, interdisciplinary collaboration to promote innovation

March 23, 2018

The Scholars in Israel Collaboration Fund provides support for new or existing project collaborations between Northwestern faculty, scholars, and artists and their counterparts at any of the nine accredited research universities in Israel. It was created through the generosity of a Northwestern alum and parent in 2016, and these collaborations are now producing results. Here are three projects made possible by the Fund:

“Earthquake Modeling and Hazard Mitigation in Israel and the Surrounding Region”

Seth Stein (earth and planetary sciences) and Bruce Spencer (statistics) received funding to work with Israeli faculty at the Institute of Earth Sciences at Hebrew University as well as the Geological Survey of Israel. 

Dead SeaTheir research compares the earthquake history of Israel’s Dead Sea Transform (DST) fault line with analogous faults like the San Andreas fault (SAF) in California and the North Anatolian fault (NAF) in Turkey. They are investigating why behavior is dissimilar across these three fault lines, using historical data to improve understanding of how, where, and when earthquakes will occur.

“The collaboration gives us access to data from ongoing and yet unpublished results of field geologic studies of paleoearthquake histories in Israel,” Stein says. “It also lets us compare and contrast the approaches we take to investigate the space-time history of earthquakes to those that our Israeli collaborators use.”

The paper, “Earthquake bursts and fault branching: lessons from the Carmel fault branch (CFB) of the Dead Sea Transform (DST),” a result of the collaboration, was accepted for the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in December 2017.


“Predicting and Treating Schizophrenia in Vulnerable Populations”

This multidisciplinary partnership between US and Israeli researchers is developing a non-invasive technique to evaluate speech patterns to determine who is at risk for schizophrenia. Northwestern scholars Matthew Goldrick (linguistics), Jennifer Cole (linguistics), Vijay Mittal (psychology), and Emily Cibelli (linguistics) areworking with computer science faculty at Bar Ilan University (pictured below).

Bar Ilan University “The premise of our research is that speech might provide an indicator (‘biomarker’) of risk for developing psychosis,” Goldrick says. “We’ve learned that adolescents at high risk for developing psychosis have subtle difficulties making complex movements. Our research aims to see if speech—an acrobatic feat of coordinating your lips, jaw, and tongue to make sound—might provide a new window on these movement difficulties.

“Our Israeli colleagues’ contribution to this work is truly foundational. They are world-renowned experts in speech technology. The software tools they’ve developed in collaboration with us allow rapid, objective, replicable measurement of human speech. For example, one tool will tell us how many thousandths of a second it took a person to say the /b/ sound at the start of the word “big.” We can use these very precise measures to help us tell if a person if having subtle problems articulating speech. None of that would be possible without our Israeli colleagues!

“If our research shows that subtle aspects of speech can indeed be a ‘biomarker’ for psychosis risk, we can work towards building tools that everyday clinicians could use. If we could detect risk for psychosis earlier, this would allow earlier treatment and perhaps prevention of this devastating illness that afflicts millions in the US and Israel.”


“The Political and Cultural Effects of Consuming News through Social Media”

Pablo J. Boczkowski (communication) is working with two communication and journalism faculty from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to study the determinants, dynamics, and sociopolitical consequences of the changing global media landscape, where people are now eschewing traditional news sources in favor of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Phone

The group is conducting an in-depth cross-cultural study in Israel and the US. The project will provide a rich dataset about current practices of news and entertainment consumption. This dataset will help them to further understand social phenomena such as learning about current events primarily on social media.

“This project will achieve a deeper understanding of news consumption habits in the digital media environment in Israel and in the US,” Boczkowski says. “To the best of our knowledge, there is no current qualitative research examining this question comparatively. Given the centrality of news consumption for democratic participation, the project’s findings have important potential implications for policy, education and news media.”

“In comparing the impact in the USA versus Israel, the Israel data so far shows a stronger prevalence of a sense of news overload or news fatigue. Israelis often feel burdened with the barrage of political events, and also feel a ‘national obligation’ to follow the news, even if their personal preference may be to disconnect. Partly due to that, we find that Israelis, in comparison to people in the USA, have a different affective relationship to their devices, that is less positive and more ambivalent.

The group is still in the data collection stage, but they have started to notice diverse consumption habits for different demographics specifically within Israel.

“Among our Arabic-speaking populations, we find concern about speaking out about news consumption, which is perceived as a controversial political activity. Among our ultra-orthodox interviewees, we find reticence about using mainstream media, and use of a variety of alternative media channels, including phone call-in lines for news updates. The significant cross-demographic differences and their patterns point to important emerging findings,” Boczkowski says.

To learn more about the Buffett Institute’s faculty funding for global research, visit

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