Weizmann alumna ranks #20 in Forbes Israel: Meet Prof. Yael Hanein
Born in Ra’anana to a family of farmers, Prof. Yael Hanein (PhD, 2000) never imagined herself becoming a scientific trailblazer. But this year, in a field typically dominated by men, she has made an indelible mark in the world of electrical engineering, earning the #20 ranking on the prestigious Forbes Israel list. A graduate of the Weizmann Institute of Science where she earned her master’s and PhD in experimental physics, Prof. Hanein is working to bridge the sizeable gap between biology, physics, and engineering by building small, complex technological systems that communicate with the neural network of the brain.
Traveling back and forth between her lab at Tel Aviv University and the WeWork office of X-trodes, the company she started and where she serves as Chief Technology Officer, Prof. Hanein is working to launch her latest creation: an upgraded version of electrodes in the simple form of a sticker. Unlike today’s electrodes—used to monitor physiological conditions—which involve cumbersome wires and elaborate headsets that can only be obtained from hospitals, Prof. Hanein’s device is compact and user-friendly with readings as accurate as its predecessors.
Currently, these electrode stickers are capable of monitoring sleep stages at home and physiological conditions like heart rate during physical activity. But the potential uses for this technology are far-reaching, extending into the realms of neurological and psychological evaluation. For instance, electrodes could be developed to measure a driver’s alertness or used on a brain-damaged patient to improve his or her motor control by sending electrical signals to the muscles. Prof. Hanein even believes that, one day, she will be able to monitor emotions and psychological states by reading the so-called “micro-expressions” in facial muscles.
Prof. Hanein is also the Vice President of Scientific Affairs at Nano-Retina, a company working to restore vision to the blind through retinal implant nanotechnology. Comprised of microscopic carbon nanotubes, these retinal implants enable the transmission of signals from electrodes to nerve tissue. The company will start human trials soon.
She credits much of her success to her experience at Weizmann, under the guidance of Prof. Dan Shahar at the Department of Condensed Matter Physics, where she studied semiconductors, nanolayers, and the flow of electrical charges.
“The years at the Weizmann Institute were the most formative of my career, teaching me all the basic skills required in basic research while also providing a supportive and challenging intellectual environment,” she says.