The Davidson Institute’s new Director-General and her vision for Israeli science education
Dr. Liat Ben-David, a Weizmann-trained biologist who has made major strides in advancing science education in Israel, has taken over the helm of the Davidson Institute of Science Education as its new Director-General as of April 1. She replaced Dr. Ariel Heimann, who served in that role for nine years and was responsible for expanding and enriching the Institute’s outreach and influence, and today includes more than 70 programs for students, teachers, and the public.
Dr. Ben-David received her MSc and PhD in biology from the Weizmann Institute of Science under the supervision of the renowned cancer researcher Prof. Leo Sachs. She then joined the Tel Aviv University School of Education, where she developed science curricula for elementary and middle school. After writing almost 20 textbooks in various fields of study, she served as the Jewish Agency emissary in West Palm Beach for three years. Upon return, she established the JDC-Ashalim Mayda Center for Knowledge and Learning for professionals working with at-risk youth.
In 2011 she became Director-General of the Wolf Foundation, which awards the prestigious international Wolf Prize, awarded annually to scientists and artists from around the world for extraordinary achievement in their fields.
She writes a weekly blog called “A Moment Before Shabbat,” in Hebrew and English, and is working on her second novel. She is married, mother of three, and a grandmother of five.
Q: Why did you become a science educator?
A: My passion has always been working with people, and I am first and foremost an educator by nature. I studied biology because I was curious about the natural world. After my PhD, I wanted to pass along the knowledge. Many of my colleagues and friends were perplexed by my decision to teach biology to high-school students, when I could have gone on to be a professional scientist. Even the students said, “So why are you here teaching us?!” It disturbed me that this was the common perception about teaching. Don’t our students deserve the most educated teachers?
Q: How was your leadership of the Wolf Foundation affected by your approach and outlook as an educator?
A: At the Wolf Foundation, I advanced the concept that the main reason to give any prize is because society deems a value—in this case, excellence—worthy , and as an educational tool for the next generation who would view the winners as role models.
We launched several initiatives to bring together our prize winners with the young generation, including roundtable discussions and a series of lectures by Krill (science) and Kiefer Prize (arts) winners. For the Wolf Prize, we creatively transformed the prize to include diverse programming around it, and most importantly, we increased public awareness and accessibility to the kind of excellence and achievements that science and arts have to offer.
Q: How did your time at the Weizmann Institute influence you and your career?
A: The Institute is a place of excellence with a “no-compromise” attitude. This has, in a sense, become embedded into my own identity, and I try to pass it along in any way I can.
Q: What is your approach towards science education?
A: It is a Humanist one. Science and technology are perfect manifestations of Humanism: They are made by man, for man, and belong to man. Learning about science should serve our needs as humans and help us understand our world.
The textbooks I have written focus on issues that require more than scientific knowledge in order to reach an educated opinion. Art, cultural artifacts, religious materials, philosophy and historical accounts of various events provide no-less-important tools of learning.
Q: What is your vision for the Davidson Institute?
The Weizmann Institute, of which we are an integral part, is an internationally renowned beacon of excellence in scientific research and achievement. Therefore, we must demand that the Davidson Institute be no less: a beacon of excellence in science education, and as such a source of inspiration and innovation, and possessing a spirit and outlook that leads to creative discovery.