R’ada Massarwa, 1978-2020
On September 5, 2020, R’ada Massarwa, a staff scientist in the laboratory of Prof. Benny Shilo, passed away after a long illness, at the young age of 42. R’ada was described as someone who had her own special way of seeing the world—an all-or-nothing person who lived in extremes. Her passion and...
On September 5, 2020, R’ada Massarwa, a staff scientist in the laboratory of Prof. Benny Shilo, passed away after a long illness, at the young age of 42. R’ada was described as someone who had her own special way of seeing the world—an all-or-nothing person who lived in extremes. Her passion and tenacity was most evident in her exceptional work both in the lab and in the classroom.
Originally from the Israeli-Arab town of Baqua el Garbia, R’ada moved to Rehovot after high school to study at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture at Hebrew University. In 2003, R’ada was accepted to the MSc/PhD program at the Weizmann Institute under the supervision of Prof. Shilo, in the Department of Molecular Genetics.
During her PhD studies, R’ada identified the regulatory protein WIP as a crucial element in muscle cell fusion in the fly embryo, and also characterized the role of the linear actin nucleator, Dia, in creating tracks for vesicle secretion in epithelial tissues in the fly embryo. These discoveries opened two new research areas that provided long-lasting research directions for the Shilo lab. For this work, she received the Kennedy Prize in 2009—the highest award for a PhD thesis at the Weizmann Institute.
“From the outset, it was clear that there was something special and unconventional about her,” says Prof. Shilo. “R’ada was a force of nature. Many times we did not agree, but it was still both challenging and fun to argue with her. Her uncompromising approach was also manifested in the courageous way with which she fought her illness over the past few years. She continued to come to the lab and actually regarded work as a welcome distraction to her medical problems.”
Known for pulling countless overnight shifts in the lab, R’ada not only possessed a unique work ethic, but was an outstanding budding scientist as well. She could process dozens of samples simultaneously, and obtain outstanding images on the confocal microscope.
After her PhD studies, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Prof. Lee Niswander in the Molecular Cellular & Developmental Biology Department at the University of Colorado. It was during her postdoctoral studies that R’ada decided to focus her career on research that would allow her to use her incredible technological talents to conduct challenging microscopy projects.
“R’ada was the most serious and hard-working student in the class,” recalls Prof. Niswander. “She was up at all hours, planning and doing experiments, and testing new ideas. She was passionate about her work and was a strong contributor to the learning of others in the course. But what I remember most is her smile. She was genuine in her interactions and I loved the twinkle in her eye during conversations. Her heart was warm and open.”
While at the University of Colorado, R’ada overcame every obstacle with an implacable perseverance. Though she was a chain-smoker, she gave up cigarettes completely to come to the smoke-free campus. When her right hand was injured, she became ambidextrous, training herself to use her left hand for highly exacting experiments.
Returning to the Weizmann Institute in 2012, R’ada worked in Prof. Yaqub Hanna’s lab in the Department of Molecular Genetics as an embryology and imaging expert. Her responsibilities included the handling of all microscopy instruments, training and assisting students and technicians, and designing a range of imaging experiments for the lab. In recent years, she returned to Prof. Shilo’s lab as a staff scientist, to continue research she began during her PhD studies.
In addition to science, R’ada was passionate about spreading science literacy to the younger generations, and organizing and teaching science workshops for Arab high school students and teachers. Her ambitious long-term plan, which she did not get a chance to implement, was to develop a large-scale scientific education and research program for high schools in the Arab sector.Read less