People Behind the Science

The Wolf Foundation chief on science and literacy
Q & A with Dr. Liat Ben-David

Dr. Liat 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. After finishing her studies in 1991, she 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 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 four.

Wolf Prize Winners from the Weizmann Institute of Science
1980 - Leo Sachs, Medicine (with César Milstein and James L. Gowans)
1987 – Meir Wilchek, Medicine (with Pedro Cuatrecasas)
1998 – Ilan Chet, Agriculture (with Baldur R. Stefansson)
1998 – Michael Sela and Ruth Arnon, Medicine
2006/7 – Ada Yonath, Chemistry (with George Feher)


Why did you attain a PhD before pursuing a career in science education?

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 just 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?

How has being an educator affected your vision for the Wolf Foundation?

I arrived with a clear vision for the Foundation: To advance the concept that the main reason to give any prize is because society deems a certain value worthy, and as an educational tool for members of 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 organize the visits of all prize winners to include university lectures, open sessions with outstanding students and an annual, multi-disciplinary conference. We even transformed the way in which we announce the winners of the Wolf Prize. We established a formal annual event in which the name of each prize winner is announced by a team composed of a member of the Wolf Foundation Council or its Board of Trustees and an outstanding high-school student who describes his or her interest in the winner’s area of expertise. Most importantly, we increased public awareness and accessibility to the kind of excellence and achievements that science and arts have to offer.

How did your time at the Weizmann Institute influence you and your career?

It taught me how to demand the very best of myself. 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. 

What is your approach towards education?

It is a Humanist one. Science and technology are perfect manifestations of beautiful 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.Generally speaking, the formal school system is still stuck in the Industrial Revolution, and there must be a new revolution in the paradigms that govern the formal educational system, especially in science.  The young generation requires inspiration from the innovative spirit that leads to discovery.

What is the Wolf Foundation?

The Wolf Foundation was established by Dr. Ricardo Wolf, former Ambassador of Cuba to Israel, and his wife Francisca. Each year, the Foundation awards the international Wolf Prize, which is bestowed on prominent figures in science and art by the President of the State of Israel. One-third of Wolf Prize winners go on to receive the Nobel Prize. The Foundation also awards the Krill Prizes for Excellence in Scientific Research, given to untenured academic staff in exact sciences, life sciences, medicine, agriculture, and engineering. In addition, scholarships are awarded to excellent science students and young promising Israeli artists. The Wolf Foundation develops educational activities that promote the dissemination of science excellence and achievements to the public.  

Prof. Dekel’s fertility research made lives whole
Fruit of discovery

Some research changes lives; some research makes lives. Such is the case for the Kaman family of Toronto, who had an emotional meeting with the scientist and clinician whose fertility research led to a much-desired pregnancy—and the birth of their daughter Hannah in 2008.

In the late 1990s, Prof. Nava Dekel of the Department of Biological Regulation and clinicians at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot made a serendipitous discovery that inflicting a slight injury to the lining of the uterus before women undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) dramatically increases the chances of a successful pregnancy. Since then, Prof. Dekel’s studies at the Weizmann Institute unveiled the mechanism of this beneficiary intervention and hundreds of fertility clinics worldwide have changed their IVF protocol accordingly. The result has been higher pregnancy success rates—and lots of babies who might otherwise not have been born.

Roslyn and Howard Kaman of Toronto credit the procedure with their first successful pregnancy after nine years of trying and four years of endless fertility treatments. In April, the family of three came to the Weizmann Institute to meet Prof. Dekel in person for the first time, as well as Dr. Irit Granot of Kaplan who was Prof. Dekel’s main partner in the discovery.

It was an emotional meeting for all. “Nava and Irit, and their research, totally changed our lives—they brought us Hannah,” says Roslyn Kaman. Even Hannah, age 6 and in first grade, articulately described how she was born. “It was because of the scratch,” she explains, using the now-colloquial reference used by practitioners and patients alike for the uterine biopsy.

Prof. Dekel says seeing Hannah and her parents was “very special” and she recalls being deeply moved after receiving an e-mail from the Kamans with Hannah’s picture days after her birth. “Seeing Hannah’s picture was more meaningful to me than having a paper published in the best journal,” she says. 

L to R: Dr. Irit Granot, Roslyn, Hannah, and Howard Kaman, Prof. Nava Dekel

Before her pregnancy with Hannah, Roslyn Kaman had experienced the gamut of fertility failures: miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, 11 artificial inseminations and three IVF treatments. The couple had all but given up and were considering adoption when Howard read about a lecture by Prof. Dekel hosted by Weizmann Canada. She described her research study that had enabled numerous Israeli women with fertility problems to conceive and carry viable pregnancies.

Prof. Dekel’s original discovery arose when she began studying a protein that plays a role in implanting embryos in the uterus. In collaboration with physicians at Kaplan, she performed an endometrial biopsy (a procedure in which a small sample is taken from the lining of the uterus) on 12 women who had failed to conceive after numerous IVF treatments. To the surprise of the team of researchers, 11 of the women conceived during their next IVF treatment. The team repeated the results in a larger-scale study, and published their groundbreaking results in 2003. The results: those women who had undergone a uterine biopsy before IVF had almost twice the success rate of pregnancies and births compared to a control group.

“We have been looking forward to this day—coming to the Weizmann Institute and meeting the scientist and clinician who helped give us Hannah—for a long time,” says Howard Kaman.

Prof. Nava Dekel is supported by the Richard F. Goodman Yale/Weizmann Exchange Program, the Rising Tide Foundation, the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Biology Endowment, Andrew Adelson of Canada, and the estate of John Hunter.

She is the incumbent of the Philip M. Klutznick Professorial Chair of Developmental Biology.



May 2017

Investigations of no small matter

Staff scientist Dr. Lorne Levinson

Dr. Lorne Levinson is a man of many hats, and his work wearing one of those hats—as the electronics coordinator of an important upgrade of the ATLAS experiment at the giant particle accelerator at CERN—could help pave the way towards discovering a hypothetical family of particles. That's no small matter (pun intended).

The existence of super-symmetric particles has been long-sought, but not yet found—with implications for long-debated theories in physics. CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland, is the world’s biggest scientific collaboration, and Weizmann Institute scientists have been integral in the investigations there; in fact, in 2014, Israel became the only non-European country to have attained full membership. CERN was established in 1954 with post-World War II goals not only to foster scientific collaboration, but also to use science as a means by which to promote peaceful co-existence among the 22 member states, providing particle accelerators and other infrastructure needed for scientists to work together on the frontier of high-energy physics.

Dr. Levinson’s path to the ATLAS experiment as a representative of the Weizmann Institute of Science was a winding one. Canadian by birth, Dr. Levinson received his PhD in physics from Brown University. He did his postdoctoral research at Stanford University, where he met his wife Daphna, a PhD student there and a Haifa native. As his fellowship ended, Daphna wanted to move back to Israel. Thanks to a strong network of overlapping U.S. and Weizmann Institute physics colleagues, particularly Prof. Giora Mikenberg in the Department of Particle Physics, an Israeli pioneer at CERN, Dr. Levinson joined the Weizmann Institute as a Visiting Scientist in 1983.

"What if I want to go back?"

Soon after, he moved to CERN to work with the Israeli team, led by Prof. Mikenberg, on the OPAL experiment, a large international physics collaboration. He was at CERN, in fact, when the World Wide Web was born. As he recalls, “Tim Berners-Lee, who was also working at CERN on the OPAL project, had developed the World Wide Web idea and put together the first very basic browser—white text on a black background. There was no mouse; you had to press the arrow keys repeatedly to move to a link in order to select it. Tim’s team was showing us their work, and I asked, ‘What if I want to go back to the page where I started?’ They agreed, and created the ‘back’ button.”

In 1987, he moved with his family to Israel and made his professional home at the Weizmann Institute as a staff scientist. As Head of the Electronics and Data Acquisition Group in the Physics Core Facilities Unit, he and his team of electronic engineers and technicians work cooperatively with principal investigators in physics, as well as chemistry and biology to design and construct the electronics that collect the data from their experiments.

“Our job is to understand their goals and help them get there,” he says.

On the hunt for particles

Among other projects, his team also oversees a complex control system that regulates the cooling and purification of a giant particle detector under the Gran Sasso mountain in Italy filled with several tons of liquid xenon held at -100⁰C.

His most consuming project, however, is his work on the ATLAS experiment, where he wears two of his hats. First, he is the electronics coordinator for the so-called “New Small Wheel” upgrade to the ATLAS muon detector, upgraded so that it can cope with the increased energy and intensity required to discover not-yet-detected particles—the focus of the ATLAS project. Dr. Levinson is overseeing the effort to build the innovative electronic system for reading the data produced by the upgraded New Small Wheel. New Small Wheel is a collaboration of over 40 institutions around the world.

What can be accomplished with more intense collisions achieved via the upgrade? For starters, better detection of the particles we already know about. As Dr. Levinson says, “ATLAS scientists were ecstatic to finally discover the Higgs boson [in 2012], predicted in the 1960s, because Higgs are so difficult to produce—but because they are rare, we need many more collisions to study them. The upgraded detector and electronics enable us to capture them.”

Higher-intensity collisions may also lead, at long last, to the detection of hypothetical super-symmetric particles. Should their existence be proven, super-symmetric particles would lend credence to theories that aim to unify the laws of physics, bringing gravity into the fold. Super-symmetric particles could also be the long-sought constituents of dark matter.

Secondly, Dr. Levinson supervises the three Israeli computer clusters (at Weizmann, the Technion, and Tel Aviv University) that support Israeli ATLAS researchers and provide the Israeli share of computing for ATLAS. ATLAS produces several thousand terabytes of data per year and a computer system distributed around the world is required to process and store the data. The Israeli clusters receive jobs from scientists around the world who are interested in analyzing the ATLAS data stored in Israel.


Dr. Revital Shechter

A brainy startup is born

When young mothers get together, comparing notes about childbirth is par for the course. But in a chat between Dr. Revital Shechter and two friends, Dr. Michal Balberg and Michal Olshansky, one of whom, like her, had recently given birth, the discussion took a different tack. What missing technology, they asked, would make delivery rooms safer? And how can we get such a solution into hospitals all over the world?

Bridging the gap between science and real-world needs comes naturally to Dr. Shechter, a Weizmann Institute alumna who co-invented several patent and patent-pending applications related to optics, and has worked extensively in industry. Today, as Chief Scientist of Ornim, the medical device company she co-founded with those same two friends back in 2004, Dr. Shechter is now helping to market the company’s technology for use, not in the maternity ward, but in another part of the hospital altogether.

The founders’ original concept was to provide non-invasive measurement of fetal vitality in the womb, an approach with the potential to greatly increase the medically significant data that could be derived by ultrasound alone. But regulatory requirements related to devices for fetal health, as well as reimbursement challenges, made development costs prohibitive, and the project never got off the ground. Adjusting its business model, the company shifted focus to neurology and the operating room, first developing a device for monitoring cerebral tissue oxygenation, then creating c-FLOW™, a device that continuously monitors blood flow in the brain.

Timely, critical medical data

Fusing light and ultrasound, c-FLOW™ is a bedside device that provides physicians with real-time data that helps them better care for their patients, by responding quickly to the changes in cerebral blood flow that can lead to neurological damage. To date, c-FLOW™ is the only FDA-approved bedside device that enables continuous, easy to use, non-invasive monitoring of cerebral blood flow.

Dr. Shechter’s system gives doctors critical information they need to make clinical decisions that may minimize neural damage associated with stroke, traumatic brain injury, or high risk surgeries. According to its inventors, c-FLOW™ may also improve survival rates for patients who undergo resuscitation procedures.

Optics meets acoustics

As a PhD student in the laboratory of Prof. Asher Freisem of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of the Physics of Complex Systems, Dr. Shechter specialized in planar optics, an approach with applications ranging from holograms to virtual-reality helmets.

Optics are also central to c-FLOW™, in which medical ultrasound is paired with laser light pulses at specific wavelengths. The acoustic signal causes compression in deep tissues, which in turn, affects how laser light is diffused, via the acousto-optic effect. This “Doppler-like” phenomenon can reveal medically significant blood flow data about tissues measuring less than one cubic centimeter in size.

Down to business

Together with her original co-founders—who left the company in 2007 and 2014 respectively—Dr. Shechter successfully guided Ornim toward its current challenge–to introduce its novel technology into the medical device market. The $16 million investment the company raised before 2012 was augmented in that year with a $20 million infusion, mostly from the GE Health Imagination Fund and from Orbimed Israel, the Israeli branch of a U.S.-based company which is the world’s largest VC firm in the area of health care. In 2016, Ornim raised an additional $20 million from their existing investors, as well as sources in China.

Dr. Shechter has recently begun mentoring students, working both with the Israeli Brain Technology accelerator and the Weizmann Institute’s Student Entrepreneurship Club. She does this because, she says, “I love working with new ideas.”

And in terms of new ideas, Dr. Shechter has plenty to say about Ornim’s next steps.

“We want to design a monitor for use with newborns and pre-terms babies, who are particularly susceptible to cerebral hemorrhage,” she says. “Just like our plans when we started the company so long ago, c-FLOW™ may find its niche in maternity after all.”


January 2017

Imaging for the future

Dr. Edna Furman-Haran

Early detection of breast cancer can be the key to survival and optimal quality of life for breast cancer patients, and Dr. Edna Furman-Haran is among the pioneers using magnetic resonance imaging to improve early detection. A staff scientist in the Life Sciences Core Facilities (LSCF), her expertise is in magnetic resonance imaging and, as head of the Institute’s Human Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Unit, her work has led her into other areas of exploration, mainly in brain research. 

A 16-year veteran of the Weizmann Institute, Dr. Furman-Haran worked in her earliest days here with Prof. Hadassah Degani in the Department of Biological Regulation (pictured above, right, with Dr. Furman-Haran) on new noninvasive breast cancer detection methods. With Prof. Degani, she advanced the development of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Three-Time-Point (3TP) method for breast cancer diagnosis. Later, she was the lead investigator in studies that extended the use of the 3TP method to prostate cancer.

Dr. Furman-Haran also worked with Prof. Degani to develop magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) methods to track mammary structure, quantify diffusion properties, and detect breast malignancy. Currently, mammography is the common method for screening, with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) serving as an adjunct for screening high-risk patients. However, mammography of dense breasts is limited, and standard breast MRI protocols involve injecting a contrast agent and are of limited specificity.

Their joint work continues today. The completely non-invasive imaging approach gives high-detection and diagnostic accuracy, particularly in dense breast tissue, offering a safe and sensitive alternative for breast cancer detection. Clinical trials are underway with collaborators in Spain and Canada.

State-of-art image of the brain from the research of Dr. Assaf Tal of the Department of Neurobiology

Her role today mainly involves collaborating with neuroscientists, helping them design, conduct, and optimize experiments that further the understanding of brain anatomy, function, and physiology. She also trains students in the use of the MRI scanner and the LSCF’s equipment infrastructure.

Dr. Furman-Haran is the first incumbent of the Calin and Elaine Rovinescu Research Fellow Chair for Brain Research, one of a series of RFC chairs established recently by generous donors to advance the careers—and key areas of scientific investigation—of staff scientists. She says she is grateful to the Rovinescu family and friends for their support. By endowing this chair, she says, “the Rovinescus are significantly strengthening not only the Weizmann Institute’s neuroscience program, but also other areas of research involving biomedical imaging.”

Mr. Calin Rovinescu, CEO of Air Canada, was one of Weizmann Canada’s Ten Leading Men honored at the National Gala.  He was also named Canada’s 2017 CEO of the Year®. Calin says he has great respect for the work of the Weizmann Institute’s research in neuroscience, which he considers “an important frontier.” In explaining why he chose to support an RFC in neuroscience, “We haven’t yet cracked how the brain works,” he says. “MRI technology has a tremendous number of applications, from understanding emotions to applications to commerce.” He is especially interested in the Institute’s efforts to uncover how to protect the brain, preserve memories, and apply neuroscience concepts to economics and machine learning.

The brain in high-definition

Dr. Furman-Haran was recently involved in a significant infrastructure acquisition: the ultra-high-field 7-Tesla (T) MRI system. This system will serve as the centerpiece of the Institute’s new Azrieli Center for Brain Imaging and Research, a national center serving the entire Israeli scientific community. The high-resolution 7T MRI scanner will allow scientists to acquire and visualize anatomical, functional, and metabolic brain imaging data in three dimensions at previously unattainable spatial resolution and precision.

“The 7T MRI system will not only give us much greater spatial resolution, but it will also enable us to achieve a much more precise correlation of  brain function with  brain structures, study connectivity  of white matter neuronal fibers, and find markers of disease,” she says. “As improved resolution and contrasts become available, the system opens up incredible new imaging and spectroscopy research possibilities, which will allow us to ask new questions and conduct new tests.”

The Weizmann Institute’s 7T MRI will be the first such instrument in Israel and one of only about 60 in operation worldwide.


Dr. Edna Fuhrman-Haran is the incumbent of the Calin and Elaine Rovinescu Research Fellow Chair for Brain Research

Weizmann ISEF alumni today

Scholarship program bears fruit

Forty years ago an ambitious scholarship program for Israelis from immigrant and underserved communities began investing in Israel's future, one mind at a time. Founded in 1977 by Edmond J. Safra z”l, Lily Safra, and Nina Weiner, the ISEF Foundation has now awarded more than 20,000 scholarships for higher education and helped more than 6,000 underprivileged young Israelis earn degrees. Some of them have earned their MScs and PhDs at the Weizmann Institute of Science and have gone on to make their mark in the world of science:

Dr. Michael Yartsev
Dr. Michael Yartsev runs the NeuroBat Lab at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California Berkeley. He completed his PhD in 2012 under the guidance of Prof. Nachum Ulanovsky at the Weizmann Institute with the support of an ISEF PhD fellowship. Dr. Yartsev is fascinated with the neurobiological mechanism by which bats acquire their vocalizations, targeting a core process that is shared with humans called “vocal learning.” ISEF supported Dr. Yartsev, beginning with his BSc and MSc at Ben-Gurion University, and continuing through his PhD and beyond, providing an ISEF International Fellowship to support Dr. Yartsev’s postdoctoral research at the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University, after which he joined the University of California Berkeley. “My time at the Weizmann Institute was transformative to my career, as it exposed me to the extraordinary model system: the bat.”


Prof. Haim Suchowski

Prof. Haim Suchowski, who earned his MSc and PhD from the Weizmann Institute in 2011, leads a group exploring nano-optics and ultrafast physics at Tel Aviv University. Their goal is to use light to control and study quantum systems. This includes exotic pursuits such as exploring the dynamics of ultrafast “hot” electrons, or creating negative and even zero refractive materials that are 100% transparent to light at certain wavelengths. During his master’s studies, he was involved with ISEF activities on campus, tutoring and mentoring Ethiopian youth through the Sparks of Science Program in Memory of Moshe Pergament. He then became an ISEF-Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow in nano-photonics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is a frequent collaborator with his Weizmann mentor, Prof. Yaron Silberberg in the Department of Physics of Complex Systems.

Dr. Orly Salama-Alber 

As an ISEF Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Dr. Orly Salama-Alber (pictured above) explores how proteins recognize carbohydrates. This basic biological mechanism is central to understanding the action of certain antibiotics and other types of drugs, how microbes and bacteria infect cells, and a number of biochemical processes important to the food and textile industries. Her work builds on many of the skills she learned as an MSc and PhD student working with Prof. Ed Bayer, in the Department of Biological Chemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science, completing her PhD in 2013.

“As an MSc and PhD student at the Weizmann Institute, I was constantly exposed to innovative and inter-disciplinary research while having access to the most advanced instruments and services I needed for my work. In addition, I was given the opportunity to attend several international courses in my field of interest, x-ray crystallography and structural biology, which broaden my expertise. My work at the Weizmann Institute was published in several peer-reviewed journals and granted me several scholarships, including the ISEF Fellowship, which paved the way to my current postdoctoral research position.”

Dr. Orly Salama-Alber's photograph was provided courtesy of Shelly Hamer-Rogotner

July 2016

Q&A with Prof. Daniella Goldfarb

Breaking the postdoc bottleneck for women

Prof. Goldfarb is the President’s Advisor for Advancing Women in Science and a member of the Department of Chemical Physics. As the President’s Advisor, she heads the Israel National Postdoctoral Program for Advancing Women in Science, which annually selects 10 outstanding women PhD graduates from all Israeli universities and gives them an award of  $40,000 over two years  for postdoctoral research abroad, supplementing their postdoc salaries. The program has set the gold standard across Israel, advancing the careers of women in science, and more broadly, enriching Israeli science with women.

New Omenn Chair

Prof. Maya Schuldiner studies proteins in action

The first incumbent of the Dr. Gil Omenn and Martha Darling Professorial Chair in Molecular Genetics is Prof. Maya Schuldiner of the Department of Molecular Genetics. Dr. Omenn and Mrs. Martha Darling, longtime friends of the Institute from Ann Arbor, Michigan, established the chair earlier this year following Prof. Schuldiner’s promotion to associate professor in November.

Previously, the couple established the Leah Omenn Career Development Chair in honor of Gil’s mother. Dr. Ayelet Erez of the Department of Biological Regulation is the first incumbent.

Prof. Schuldiner, who is also the Senior Advisor to the President for Scientific Education, uncovers the function of unstudied organelle proteins. She has invented technological tools to help study protein functions in systematic ways. Her work has implications for a spectrum of diseases and conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s. In 2014, she was selected for the "40 under 40" list by Cell, recognizing young scientists shaping future trends in science.

Dr. Erez (at left) is also a medical doctor who previously worked as a medical geneticist at Texas Children’s Hospital and was an assistant professor of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. In her lab at the Weizmann Institute, she is focused on understanding the reciprocal relationship between metabolic aberrations and human diseases. Understanding how metabolism and disease intertwine opens a window of opportunity for therapeutic interventions. She also runs a pediatric cancer genetics clinic at Ichilov Medical Center in Israel.

“I feel extremely grateful for having been given the opportunity to be the first incumbent of the Omenn Chair, not only because of their support of my work but also because it is inspiring to be associated with such wonderful philanthropists”.

December 2015

Q & A with Prof. Bat Sheva Eylon

EMET winner, educator par excellence

Prof. Bat Sheva Eylon of the Department of Science Teaching has received the EMET Award for 2015 for the Promotion of Education. This prestigious annual award is sponsored by the AMN Foundation for the Advancement of Science, Art and Culture in Israel, under the auspices of and in cooperation with the Prime Minister of Israel.

The prizes recognize Israeli citizens and occasionally non-citizens who reside in Israel for their far-reaching academic and professional achievements which have made a significant contribution to society. Prof. Eylon received the award in recognition of “her pioneering work in the development of science education and learning sciences, and for the cultivation of science teachers and for the empowerment of involved science students.”

After seven fruitful years as departmental head, Prof. Eylon stepped down this year, but continues to be an integral member of staff. She also continues as the pedagogical director of the Rothschild-Weizmann Program for Excellence in Science Teaching. She has been succeeded as department head by Prof. Anat Yarden.

Prof. Eylon is a mother of five, and grandmother to an ever-growing number of grandchildren.

"A scientist is a student forever"

Interview with Prof. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji

Prof. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, who received a PhD honoris causa from the Weizmann Institute of Science in November, is a physicist whose quantum physics research was recognized with the Nobel Prize in 1997. 

Since 1973, Prof. Cohen-Tannoudi has been a professor at the Collège de France. He is best known for developing the theoretical framework that explains laser-cooling of atoms as well as paving the way toward ever-smaller electronic components, improved space navigation, and more precise measurement of gravitational forces. He is also an enthusiastic educator who has had a profound influence on the way physics is taught the world over.

Prof. Yaron Silberberg from the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Physics of Complex Systems refers to him as a “mega-teacher,” saying, “He wrote the books that most of us learned from.” For several decades, he has maintained a deep connection to Israeli science and in particular to the Weizmann Institute.

His remarkable links to the Israeli scientific community are attested to by the fact that at times of unrest—when many others canceled their planned visits—his own, frequent, visits did not cease. He is a compelling advocate of academic freedom and free exchange of opinions and a strong voice against boycotts of Israeli science. He retired ten years ago but continues to do research and travel extensively.

A video about Prof. Cohen-Tannoudji that was filmed for the PhD honoris causa ceremony can be viewed here.

Q: What do you value most of all?

A: Curiosity and a desire to learn. What we know is just a fraction of all knowledge, so it is of utmost importance to be open to other cultures and to other ways of transmitting knowledge.

Q: How did your connection with the Weizmann Institute begin?

A: The Weizmann Institute shares many features with the Collège de France. The Collège was founded in 1530 to counterbalance the overly rigid scholastic approach of the Sorbonne, and is renowned for its flexibility; professors are free to choose their lecture topics. Their lectures must change and address different topics every year. The people who attend these lectures come just in order to learn something new. I think this wish to learn something new is also true at the Weizmann Institute.

Q: How did you choose your field of research?

A: I came to Paris from Algeria in 1953 to study at the École Normale Supérieure. During the first year, I attended a series of fascinating lectures in mathematics given by Henri Cartan and Laurent Schwartz, and in physics by Alfred Kastler. Initially, I planned to concentrate on mathematics; but Kastler was a poet, explaining things in a very elegant way and his lectures were so stimulating, that I decided to study physics.

[Kastler went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1966, which Cohen-Tannoudji received in 1997 and his student, Serge Haroche, received in 2012.]

One of the most important things in my work, and in science and education in general, I believe, is transmitting your enthusiasm to young people and motivating good students to do research. Serge Haroche is one of the examples.

Q: Why do international connections in science matter?

A: It is important to establish scientific connections because science is universal. Among other collaborations I have been involved in, I have also arranged meetings between Israeli and Arab scientists from all over the world, including, of course, Palestinians. And the result was perfect: You wouldn’t believe there was a war between their countries, as they engaged in joint discussions for an entire week. There is always more to learn from one another and more to be done in science. A scientist is a student forever.


January 2015

Prof. Haim Garty

A life intertwined with the Weizmann Institute

Prof. Haim Garty, the Vice-President of the Weizmann Institute of Science, passed away on November 29. “Haim was a thinking man who could find the best solution to any problem quickly. For Haim, there were no complicated problems—there were only solutions,” said President Prof. Daniel Zajfman at the memorial service held on campus.

The Institute is establishing a Center for Translational Science in memory of Prof. Haim Garty, with a major infusion of funds from Yeda Research and Development Ltd., the Institute’s technology transfer company, and the Institute itself. The Institute is inviting donors and friends to contribute to the endowment for the Center.

Prof. Garty’s life was intimately connected with the Weizmann Institute for more than 40 years. Born in Bulgaria in 1948, he came with his family to Israel in 1950, settling in Rehovot. He liked to say that he grew up in the “backyard of the Weizmann Institute.” He did his bachelor’s studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and came back to Rehovot where he received his MSc in 1976 and his PhD in 1980 from the Weizmann Institute.

After spending two years as a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in New York, he returned to the Institute in 1982 to join what was then the Department of Membrane Research. He was appointed Associate Professor in 1988 and Professor in 1997. He was the incumbent of the Hella and Derrick Kleeman Chair of Biochemistry.

His research made a significant contribution to the understanding of the natural processes that regulate the absorption of sodium salts in the body. He demonstrated the central role of sodium channels and sodium-potassium pumps in controlling blood pressure—studies that significantly advanced the understanding of factors that contribute to high blood pressure.

From 1997 and until 2002, he headed the Department of Biological Chemistry. “Haim was deeply appreciated and respected by his colleagues in every role he took,” recalled Prof. Zvi Livneh, Dean of the Faculty of Biochemistry. Prof. Garty then went on to serve as Vice President for Technology Transfer from 2002 to 2006, at which point he assumed the position of Institute Vice-President. Altogether, he spent 18 years in leadership positions—all while carrying out his demanding research agenda.

His wife, Nira, said at his memorial service: “I sensed that you were slipping away from me but I drew strength from your ability to continue doing what was fulfilling to you—your work. You conducted meetings from your hospital bed and even the doctors didn’t dare disturb you. You made an effort to participate in all meetings despite your weakness. You took care of your students even when you had no strength. Everyone loved and appreciated your opinions. They knew that you could be counted on. You helped everyone. But I couldn’t help you.”

Having served in these roles, says Prof. Zajfman, “Haim was a rare individual who held both ends of the ‘rope’ of scientific research: the curiosity-driven end of academic pursuits, and the market-driven end, allowing him to develop a keen sense of the long and difficult process involved in traversing from curiosity to discovery to commercialization.” 

Prof. Steven Karlish, who worked closely with Prof. Garty throughout the years, recalled how his scientific talks “always ended up with a question”, a sign of both his humility and his inherent curiosity and ability to spur curiosity among his students and peers.

“Haim was an extraordinary human being and a dedicated, focused individual who possessed a clear vision of the goals of the Weizmann Institute of Science and a refined sense of what was needed to support its scientists,” said Prof. Zajfman. “He worked passionately and tirelessly to positively influence the life of the Institute, in the service of one unique goal: ensuring that scientists receive the funding and resources to execute their research at the highest level.”

Prof. Michal Neeman, former Dean of the Faculty of Biology, has replaced Prof. Garty as Institute Vice-President.

Prof. Garty left behind his wife Nira and sons Guy, Erez, and Yuval.

Dr. Avital Schrift

In the defense of Israel

As director of missile systems of Israel’s Mabat missile factory, which belongs to the Missile and Space Systems Group of the Israel Aeronautics Industry (IAI), Dr. Avital Schrift supervises mostly classified projects. At IAI, the largest security manufacturer in Israel, she is responsible for over 300 employees, leading a large variety of research, development, experimental, and missile manufacturing projects for use in sea, surface, and air.

Dr. Schrift received her PhD in the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics of the Weizmann Institute of Science. “I did my PhD for the soul, because I loved the subject,” she says. Her doctoral thesis dealt with the cryptology, the art of encrypting and safeguarding information. After graduating, she joined ELTA Systems, an IAI subsidiary.

One of the projects she can talk about is the roaming “Harrop” missile. It is an advanced, economical missile—both in fuel and in manpower—which can stay airborne for up to six hours. During this timeframe, the missile acts like an unmanned vehicle, also known as a drone. A small camera in its front end gives a live feed to the control room, where an operator can monitor its position, alter its course, and change the target if necessary. This missile can be dispatched to unfamiliar areas, and beyond its obvious ballistic use, it is also utilized for deterrence and reconnaissance. It is sold and is operational in Israel and abroad.

Dr. Schrift, who is married with children, received the Israel Defense Award in 2003 for her job on the “Green Pine” project involving missile-detection homing radar. She then became head of the Aerial Defense Systems section of ELTA and was deputy director of the Misgav factory—which develops and manufactures naval and ground reconnaissance, intelligence, protection, and defense systems. Today, her position as director of Mabat is considered one of the most influential positions at the IAI.

July 2014

When basic science drives invention

Amnon Shashua’s MobileEye reduces crashes

It all started with a ride in the car with a friend. “I remember saying to him, ‘We could put a camera right here in the car to give us a collision warning,'” says Prof. Amnon Shashua. Shortly before that, in 1986, the Weizmann Institute alumnus had completed his master’s studies in the lab of Prof. Shimon Ullman in the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and he was rife with ideas about everything he had absorbed: visual processing of objects and computerization of visual information. That conversation lodged in the back of his head. Years later, when at a presentation he made to car industry engineers, he was asked about a system that utilizes two cameras for collision warning. He told them: “You don’t need two cameras. One is enough. When you shut one eye, you don’t go blind”.

Since then, Prof. Shashua, a professor of computer science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has dedicated himself to making that statement a reality and establishing MobilEye, now the largest manufacturer of single-camera Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in the world, revolutionizing the world of road safety on the way.

His career as an academic and technological entrepreneur has its roots in his time spent at the Weizmann Institute. Under Prof. Ullman’s tutelage, the young Shashua learned about how the brain processes visual information and how to construct computer systems with human-like visual capabilities. He was also inspired by his mentor’s ability to combine a career in basic research with commercial application in the high-tech industry.  Prof. Ullman was a co-founder of Orbot (now Orbotech), which makes automated optical inspection systems for various industries, including the printed circuit industry. Prof. Ullman was recently awarded the prestigious EMET Prize for 2014.

“Without the knowledge gained in Shimon Ullman’s lab and watching him work the way he did—always thinking about how his lab insights might help make life better for people—I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Prof. Shashua in an interview in MobileEye’s Jerusalem headquarters.

Shashua went on to obtain a PhD in artificial intelligence from MIT in 1993 and did postdoctoral training with MIT’s Prof. Tomaso Poggio. He became a faculty member at the Hebrew University in 1996. Initially, the transition from developing scientifically proven algorithms to generating marketable products was more challenging than he had imagined. He pitched his first patent—for an algorithm that allows easy editing of light in images—to  Hollywood movie studios, with no success, but then a Japanese company adopted it for the fashion industry. His second patent, for a method for turning 2D images into 3D images, served as the basis for his first company, CogniTens, which made a quality-control product for the automotive spare parts industry. The product compared 3D images of manufactured parts with 3D renderings of the original design to locate production flaws.

CogniTens was Prof. Shashua’s first encounter with strategic product-oriented thinking—a departure from his life as a scientist doing basic research. He enjoyed the new challenge, and adopted the professional model of his mentor, Prof. Ullman: a day a week at the company and four days a week at the university. The company was sold in 2007.

It was then that he recalled his car-ride conversation in the late 1980s about a crash-warning camera. He decided to pursue the concept. In 1999, Shashua established MobilEye together with a partner, businessman Ziv Aviram. The company’s first big break came when a car manufacturer asked for a demo of a single-camera-based lane-detection system which would provide warning when the driver drifts unexpectedly from a designated lane. MobilEye created a demo for this new product, but also planted into the system a big extra: a demonstration of its single-camera object detection. When the clients witnessed a single-camera system able to detect various objects—something considered impossible until then—they stopped their bid for ADAS and began working with MobilEye.

A camera based on the logic of human vision

Prof. Shashua’s original idea behind the MobilEye technology was this: If the human eye can acquire depth perception and provide warning even when only one eye is active, then why couldn’t a single camera provide similar results? When he went on to do market research, he found that dual-camera systems devised by competitors require a complex computational model for depth perception which can cause serious errors in warnings.

MobilEye developed several generations of the single-camera system. Today’s product is a device involving a single camera that is installed between the vehicle’s rear-view mirror and the windshield. It is based on proprietary software algorithms and its EyeQ® chip, which perform detailed interpretations of the surrounding visual field of a given driver in order to anticipate possible collisions. It identifies risks and distances, and provides early warning for collisions with pedestrians, still objects, moving vehicles, lane departure, speed limit regulation, and high-beam management. The system also reads road signs and traffic lights.

In 2007, after almost 10 years of marketing and development and R&D efforts, MobilEye launched its first market product: built-in single-camera systems—the first of its kind—for Cadillac, BMW, and Volvo, as well as a version that could be installed by car owners, suitable for any vehicle. Since the system only requires one camera, MobilEye products are cheaper than their competitors, at about $100-150 for car manufacturers; individual car owners can purchase the product for about $600-1,000. Meanwhile, car safety regulation shifted in MobilEye’s favor, as the development of ADAS technology by several companies gave impetus to regulation in North America and Europe requiring built-in ADAS for advanced safety ratings.

Because few others believed that a single-camera technology would be effective, according to Prof. Shashua, MobilEye now has over a decade’s lead in both development and field data collection over its competitors and it controls an 80 percent share of the single-camera ADAS market. Over 3 million cars worldwide have a MobilEye product installed.

In June, the company made an SEC submission for initial public offering on NYSE; the IPO is expected to be one of the largest listings for an Israeli tech firm in recent years.

New technologies

Now, MobilEye is focused on its next goal: making autonomously-driven vehicles—or, in simple language, hands-free driving. The technology has been installed in only four cars, one of which is Prof. Shashua’s. He believes that this type of system is the future of the automotive industry and is certain that, much like in the case of ADAS technology, once car manufacturers begin taking an interest in the technology, regulatory bodies will follow suit and align their demands with what the technology has to offer.

Infected with the entrepreneurial bug, Prof. Shashua then came up with a product that aims to serve the visually impaired. OrCam, the company he and Aviram founded in 2010, makes a visual aid in the shape of a small camera that can be mounted on eyeglasses that helps the visually impaired to read and identify objects such as traffic lights, bus numbers, and labels of grocery items. Users can scan items they come across during their day-to-day life, thereby personalizing the product to meet their specific needs. The next level of sophistication will offer face recognition and a heftier database of pre-set product identification.

“Amnon’s outstanding ability to combine fundamental science with useful practical systems was evident since his time as a young MSc student. His thesis was a gem,” says Prof. Ullman.

Prof. Shashua testifies that his solid grounding in basic research offered him the best edge—indeed, it was absolutely essential—in inventing and developing the products he has created. For that reason, MobilEye maintains a policy of hiring scientifically minded people who can handle complex problems and offer innovative solutions, and currently employs several alumni of the Weizmann Institute, including its senior Vice President of Research and Development, Dr. Gaby Hayon.

Prof. Shimon Ullman is supported by the European Research Council and is the Samy and Ruth Cohn Professor of Computer Science.

Peer power for women postdocs

A new forum puts women's career issues in focus

When Susanne Pielawa arrived on campus in 2011 as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Condensed Matter Physics, she was fully aware she would be a minority as a woman in physics. “This is the way it is for women in physics. It’s a very male-dominated field and even if a woman gets along perfectly well with her male colleagues, it can sometimes be lonely,” she says.

During her PhD studies at Harvard University, one of the motivators that kept her on track in pursuing a career in physics was her membership in two forums—a Women in Physics group and a Women in Science and Engineering group—where she networked with other female PhD students to discuss everything that was satisfying and challenging in their fields, hashing out ideas and trading advice.

Dr. Pielawa, who is German, decided to do her postdoc studies at the Weizmann Institute after hearing about the world-leading reputation of its physics faculty. “When I got here, I looked for a women-in-science group, but no such thing existed. I realized that what I experienced at Harvard was a very American invention and one that was worth duplicating here. So I created one.”

Susanne was inspired by the Weizmann Young PI Forum, which is overseen by Dr. Maya Schuldiner in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Dr. Ron Milo of the Department of Plant Sciences. The Young PI Forum conducts workshops and hosts guest speakers to talk about career issues, and otherwise supports young principal investigators (PIs). Susanne consulted with Prof. Varda Rotter, the former President’s Advisor for Advancing Women in Science and a member of the Department of Molecular Cell Biology; her successor, Prof. Daniella Goldfarb of the Department of Chemical Physics; and Prof. Lia Addadi, then Dean of the Feinberg Graduate School (FGS) and a member of the Department of Structural Biology. They were all highly supportive.

“The postdoc period is a critical one in the careers of any researcher, and for women perhaps even more so,” says Dr. Pielawa. “They must choose  whether to take the path of an academic scientist, which is very demanding and competitive and, on top of that, they are weighing the possible effects that that decision has on their lives, as wives and mothers. This is a pivotal point for many women scientists and they need all the information and resources to help them make this decision. If they are going to take the academic path, encouragement, advice and support from their peers is essential.”

So a year ago, Dr. Pielawa launched the Women’s Postdoc Forum. The response was strong. The idea ignited interest among others, and women PhD students in chemistry have since started their own forum.

The forum meets every two weeks, and has had 21 meetings in which the participants are “coached” on a bevy of topics and have an opportunity to raise issues for discussion. Topics have included negotiation skills, self-confidence, and communication skills in the workplace. The group also has an online forum.

As a guest speaker, Prof. Addadi talked about balancing work and life. Prof. Uri Alon of the Department of Molecular Cell Biology ran a workshop on building a motivated research group—a topic he has written about in Cell Press. Dr. Schuldiner held a session on the “elevator pitch”—helping the women hone their messages about who they are and what their goals are, and feeling comfortable with self-promotion in the interest of advancing their careers.

Forum member Dr. Julia Khusnutdinova, who was a postdoc in the Department of Organic Chemistry and recently took a position as an adjunct professor at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, led a session on the job search process. “Graduate school and the postdoc period teach us how to be good researchers, but we don’t necessarily learn the ‘soft’ skills that we need to start our independent careers, like how to keep your group motivated or how to network at conferences,” she says.

“Meeting with Susanne and the postdoc forum she established was a revelation for me,” says Prof. Goldfarb. “The forum is so different than what I experienced during my career. With this forum, I have witnessed how important peer support and networking is for women who wish to pursue careers in science. After encouraging and seeing a chemistry PhD students’ forum come into being, I am now encouraging the creation of other similar forums on campus because they have tremendous value.”