One year after groundbreaking, desert research center takes shape on the Israeli-Jordanian border

While ethnic conflict in the Middle East continues to dominate the headlines, a unique collaboration between Arab and Israeli scientists is quietly taking shape along the border between Jordan and Israel.

Launched just one year ago, the Bridging the Rift (BTR) project now includes some 40 researchers from Israel, Jordan and the United States who have come together to establish the first scientific institute jointly operated by Israel and one of its Arab neighbors.

"My hope is that Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza also will become involved," said Stanford University biologist Marcus Feldman, academic director of the project. "We've contacted Egyptian scientists and hope they will join as well."

Feldman began working with the Bridging the Rift Foundation in 2001, when he was approached by foundation president Mati Kochavi, an Israeli businessman living in New York. Kochavi's dream was to create a bioscience research center jointly operated by Israel and Jordan that would encourage the free exchange of ideas between Arab and Israeli scientists, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. To boost the project's credibility, Kochavi enlisted Stanford and Cornell universities as academic partners.

Dead Sea science

Kochavi's dream became reality on March 9, 2004, when he, Feldman and others joined Jordanian and Israeli government officials at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Bridging the Rift Center, a new life sciences research facility located in the remote desert region known as the central Arava area about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the Dead Sea. This arid region is of particular interest to scientists because it is home to many plants, animals and microbes that have evolved special attributes enabling them to survive in a harsh climate some 1,200 feet (417 meters) below sea level--the lowest elevation on Earth.

The 150-acre project site literally straddles the border, with half of the facility

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

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