Talpiot program is an elite Israel Defense Forces training program, for recruits who have demonstrated outstanding academic ability in the sciences, physics and mathematics and leadership potential. Graduates of the Talpiot program pursue double higher education while serving in the army, and then utilize their expertise to further IDF research and development in technological leadership positions. The program was inaugurated in 1979.
The initiators of the program were Professor Felix Dothan and Professor Shaul Yatziv of the Hebrew University, who submitted the idea to the Israeli chief of staff Rafael Eitan. The idea was to harness human creativity, which peaks early, to develop new technologies for the army. The program is sponsored by the Israeli Air Force and IDF Administration for the Development of Weapons and the Technological Industry, and run under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
During their initiation period, the cadets study for their B.Sc. in Physics and Mathematics (some of them Computer Science – according to their choice) at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in Air Force uniform, while also undergoing different periods of field training designed to familiarize them with all branches of the IDF (infantry level 04 basic training, combat engineering course,armored corps course, artillery corps course, instruction in military tactics etc.). At the end of the course which lasts 40 months the cadets receive a rank of first lieutenant (Segen) and the B.Sc. and become integrated in the R&D in the IDF and Israeli military industries, or alternatively, in various combat positions if they so choose.
In addition to the 3 years obligated by the Israeli law, the service includes 6 years of standing army service in a wide variety of positions. The total program, including military service, is nine years.
The first class had 25 cadets. Later, the class was increased to 50–60. The applicant pool consists of nearly ten thousand top scorers of a test taken by all graduating high school seniors. 150–200 potential applicants are then subjected to a two-day series of tests. These include further IQ exams as well as group-tasks designed to test one's social dynamics, all conducted under the supervision of trained psychologists and military personnel. For example, teams of applicants are given a specific task then the instructions are changed while the test is in progress, such as shortening the alloted time or changing the assigned tasks. Final applicants appear before a panel of professors, military leaders, and other examiners where they are asked questions such as to explain the theory of relativity or mechanisms of solar heating. Final acceptance into the program entails a high security clearance rating, given by the Air Force.
Notable Talpiot Alumni (Talpionim)
- Uri Alon, professor of systems biology at the Weizmann Institute
- Arik Czerniak, one of the founders of Metacafe, a Palo Alto company that has user posted videos.
- Yoav Freund, professor at the University of California, San Diego, and Gödel Prize winner
- Amit Klein, web security expert and CTO of Trusteer, Ltd, a consumer transaction security company
- Elon Lindenstrauss, professor of mathematics at the Hebrew University and winner of the 2010 Fields Medal
- Abraham (Avi) Loeb, American/Israeli theoretical physicist at Harvard University
- Shlomo Dubnov, composer and researcher, professor at the University of California, San Diego
- Marius Nacht, one of the co-founders of Check Point Software Technologies
- Eli Mintz, Simchon Faigler and Amir Natan, founders of Compugen Ltd.
- The IDF Havatzalot Program
Secret Weapon: How an Elite Military School Feeds Israel's Tech Industry, Wall Street Journal, Vol. CCL, No. 4, July 6, 2007.