Rothschild Prize to two Weizmann scientists

Selections highlight impact of physics in biological research


Date: April 25, 2018
WeizmannDirect Issue 10

Two Weizmann Institute of Science researchers whose research emphasizes the impact of physics on advancing the understanding of human biology have won the prestigious Rothschild Prize for 2018. Prof. Naama Barkai won the Rothschild Prize in Life Sciences for her innovative work in systems biology, and Prof. Yaron Silberberg won the Rothschild Prize in Physical Sciences and Chemical Sciences for his groundbreaking research in optical physics.

Prof. Barkai is one of the founders and central contributors to the field of systems biology, which takes a quantitative approach to biological systems using theory, computation, and experiments. She is studying decision-making within cells and tissues, asking how these “decisions” are executed in the highly noisy biological environment. She discovered mechanistic principles that function in diverse processes, including the patterning of the body-plan during embryonic development, the maintenance of nutrient homeostasis in proliferating cells, and the coordination between gene expression and DNA replication. Prof. Barkai is the head of the Department of Molecular Genetics and the director of both the Azrieli Center for Systems Biology and the Kahn Family Center for Systems Biology of the Human Cell.

Prof. Silberberg, from the Department of Physics of Complex Systems, who serves as Director of the Institute’s Crown Photonics Center, has made major strides in elucidating the interaction of light and matter. His discoveries in the fields of ultrafast, nonlinear and quantum optics not only shed light on the vary basic aspects of light and its interactions, but also led to new methods of laser microscopy, which uses bursts of light that last just a few femtoseconds (a millionth of a billionth of a second). These methods enable a better understanding of the fastest molecular processes inside the tiniest of specimens, with vast implications for biological research.

Rothschild Prizes are awarded to recognize original and outstanding published work in Mathematics/Computer Sciences and Engineering, Chemical Sciences and Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Jewish Studies, Humanities and Social Sciences. Yad Hanadiv established the Rothschild Prizes Organization in 1959 to support, encourage, and advance the sciences and humanities in Israel.

Prof. Naama Barkai heads the Azrieli Institute for Systems Biology, the Leo and Julia Forchheimer Center for Molecular Genetics, and the Kahn Family Research Center for Systems Biology of the Human Cell. She is supported by the Lorna Greenberg Scherzer Laboratory, the David and Fela Shapell Family Foundation GINCPM Fund for Preclinical Studies, and the European Research Council. She is the incumbent of the Lorna Greenberg Scherzer Professorial Chair.

Prof. Yaron Silberberg heads the Crown Photonics Center, and is supported by the Wolfson Family Charitable Trust.