Zuckerman STEM Leadership Scholars Nick Wadleigh (Technion) and Eric David Kramer (Hebrew U) discuss their research at a break during the symposium
Yoav Shechtman, a Zuckerman Faculty Scholar at the Technion, explains how his research team modifies microscopes to extract 3D information and color images

On Tuesday, November 7, the Mortimer B. Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program hosted the first Zuckerman U.S.—Israel Symposium, an educational forum showcasing the talents of its STEM Leadership Scholars, a cadre of select American postdoctoral researchers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as well as new Israeli faculty scholars, as a means of promoting academic exchange between the United States and Israel.

Held at Tel Aviv University, the symposium featured presentations by Zuckerman STEM Scholars about their respective areas of research, including nonsurgical treatments for obesity, the modification of microscopes to extract 3-D information and color images, the study of echolocation as used by bats to find food in the dark, and many others. The engaging lectures made a strong case for the importance of investing in STEM research as a pedagogical bridge between the two nations.

“It is the ideal time to highlight the very best parts of Israel and show that a strong relationship between Israel and the United States can be based upon academic achievements,” said Eric Gertler, trustee of the Zuckerman Institute. “Israel and the U.S. are among the most innovative countries in the world, so truly great research collaboration between the two countries can advance the fields of STEM dramatically. Our hope is that the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program will help pave the way for a bright new era in STEM research.”

David Mendlovic, Yossi Vardi, and Yoav Henis at the STEM symposium

Launched in January 2016, the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program aims to strengthen the U.S.—Israel relationship by building long-lasting relationships based on mutual collaboration in science. Over the next 20 years, the program will provide more than $100 million in scholarships and educational activities to benefit participating students and universities, including Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

In addition to a panel discussion with Yossi Vardi, the “godfather of Israeli hi-tech,” on the challenges of monetizing scientific breakthroughs, the symposium also featured lectures by American and Israeli leaders in the fields of STEM on enhancing science communication, choosing reputable sources for scientific information in the era of “fake news,” and the added benefits of researching in Israel.

While comparing STEM research experiences in Israel and at a leading university in the United States, Moti Segev, the Robert J. Shillman Distinguished Professor of Physics at the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, explained that the Israeli academic system is constructed to make it easier for elite researchers like the Zuckerman STEM scholars to succeed.

“Instead of having to spend a great deal of time raising the funds necessary to build a research team, Israeli lead researchers can count on their university for the funding needed to build their teams of students,” said Segev. “There are also no demands for reports and other deliverables in Israel, which allows Israeli research teams to spend less time chasing funds and discussing funding issues and more time actually conducting research.”

The Zuckerman STEM scholars in attendance agreed with Segev’s assessment and expressed their gratitude for being given the opportunity to participate in the program.

“It’s a thrill to be conducting my research in Israel, and I am overwhelmed with the support I constantly receive from the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program,” said Eric David Kramer, who received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Harvard University before joining the faculty of science at Hebrew University to investigate the multidisciplinary aspects of dark matter searches. “It is because of this program that I was able to realize my dream of conducting my research at the highest level.”

The symposium also served as a launch pad for a new partnership with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University that will focus on honing the verbal communications skills of all current and future scholars, providing them with the tools needed to clearly and convincingly convey the importance of scientific information to their audiences.

“I love that the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program brings scientists from Israel together with those from the United States. That kind of collaboration can bring creative leaps to science that are not yet imagined and can benefit the fortunes of both countries,” said Mr. Alda, the actor, writer, and science advocate who serves as a visiting professor at the Center. “We recognize the crucial need for effective science communication, and we hope to stimulate this trend by supporting the scholars in the STEM program.”

James Gertler, trustee of the Zuckerman Institute, added that the new partnership is the ideal way to leverage the achievements of the STEM Leadership Scholars. “Making a scientific breakthrough is only one part of science leadership–being able to explain its significance both to colleagues and to the public is almost equally important. This additional investment in our scholars will ensure that they leave the Zuckerman program feeling confident about their abilities to bring their discoveries to bear on the issues of the day.”

Under the Zuckerman Institute—Alda Center Scholars Project in Israel, scholars will participate in two-day workshops with Alda Center facilitators and researchers, receive ongoing support through the Alda-Kalvi Online Learning Center, gain the tools they need to collaborate more effectively with other researchers, increase the effectiveness of their communication with funders and policy makers, and utilize the “Alda Method” to enhance their research methodology and identify opportunities for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

To learn more about the Mortimer B. Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program, please visit Zuckerman-Scholars.org. 


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