weizmann science writer

wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/

The Weizmann Institute of Science is one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary research institutions. Hundreds of scientists, laboratory technicians and research students working on its lushly landscaped campus embark daily on fascinating journeys into the unknown, seeking to improve our understanding of nature and our place within it.

The Institute’s roots go back to the Daniel Sieff Research Institute, built in 1934 with the support of Israel and Rebecca Sieff of London in memory of their son Daniel. It was established upon the initiative of Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the driving force behind its scientific activity and its first President. A world-renowned chemist, he headed the Zionist movement for many years and later became the first President of the State of Israel. In November 1944, with the agreement of the Sieff family, it was decided that the Sieff Institute would become the nucleus of a large-scale research institution named after Dr. Chaim Weizmann. On November 2, 1949, in honor of Dr. Weizmann’s 75th birthday, the Weizmann Institute was formally dedicated.

The Institute has five faculties – Mathematics and Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biochemistry and Biology – and the faculties in turn are divided into 17 scientific departments. In addition, the Feinberg Graduate School, the Institute’s university arm, trains research students pursuing graduate degrees.

The Weizmann Institute serves as a meeting place for scientists from different disciplines, setting the stage for multidisciplinary collaborations and the emergence of new research fields. To encourage this creative activity, the Institute has created some 50 multidisciplinary research institutes and centers, most of which provide an intellectual rather than physical framework for joint projects. These institutes and centers stimulate activity in a multiplicity of fields, including brain research, cancer research, nanotechnology, renewable energy sources, experimental physics, biological physics, environmental studies, the study of autoimmune diseases, plant sciences, photosynthesis, genetics and others.

Today the campus community numbers more than 2,600: some 1,000 scientists and scientific staff, 1,000 research students, 220 postdoctoral fellows and 400 administrative employees. The Institute has some 250 research groups headed by senior scientists and professors, of whom approximately 100 were born in Israel; the rest have come to Israel and to the Institute from 28 countries: Afghanistan, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, France, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay. Each year, around 500 scientists from dozens of countries around the globe visit the Weizmann Institute or come to work on its campus. And each year, approximately 25 international scientific conferences take place at the Institute.

The Feinberg Graduate School, the Institute’s university arm, was established in 1958. The language of instruction is English, and the average advisor-student ratio is 1:3. Some 300 are pursuing M.Sc. degrees, and 700 Ph.D. degrees. About 45% are female. About a third of the 220 postdoctoral fellows come from the United States, Canada, Latin America, the European Union and Africa, as well as Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The Davidson Institute of Science Education, established in 2002, provides a continuation and expansion of Weizmann Institute activities in the area of science teaching. The “Perach” all-Israel tutoring program, currently headquartered at the Davidson Institute, enlists students from all the Israeli universities to serve as tutors to underprivileged youth. Each year, some 33,000 youngsters take part in activities organized by the Weizmann Institute’s Young@Science section including the Science Mobile, a teaching lab-in-a-van developed at the Weizmann Institute. The Clore Garden of Science, an award-winning outdoor facility is the first science museum of its kind in the world. Its 100 hands-on exhibits allow visitors to learn about science and nature through play and firsthand experience.

Members of the Weizmann Institute’s Science Teaching Department design new curricula for middle and high schools, experiment with future teaching methods, write textbooks (in Hebrew and Arabic), create games and interactive computer programs and implement special teacher training courses.

Here is a photo of one of the Golem computers on which Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt — this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry winners, along with Martin Karplus — did much of their original work.   My dad was a computer programmer at that time, so I have some idea of what their work…

A Genetic Balance of Terror

Cancer, we are told, is a disease of the genes. It originates in mutations in the DNA. But a paper published by a Weizmann Institute group in Cell Reports flips that idea sideways by about 90 degrees: For at least some types of the disease, the healthy, non-mutated version of a gene is no less…

First, there was the great hope of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and then there was the inevitable letdown. When the announcement came, in 2006, that simple adult skin cells could be reprogrammed – reverted back to an embryonic stem cell state by the addition of just four genes – it seemed like an almost…

What effect does a constant stream of engaging stimuli have on our relationships? On our social structure as a whole? What percentage of our actions is influenced by others, and how does this translate, at some point, into group behavior? Neurobiologists Prof. Alon Chen and Dr. Elad Schneidman of the Weizmann Institute and their team…

Last month we reported on the first people who, around twelve thousand years ago, were lining their loved ones’ graves with flowers. This month, we have a piece on the “extinct” frog that was “resurrected” and then discovered to be a living fossil. Both of these studies were led by Israeli researchers from other institutions.…

Science Haiku 2

Since the haiku post was well received, and since we have another three pieces online today – each on a different finding and each interesting in its own right – I have decided to return to the haiku format. Among other things, there is something quite satisfying about distilling complex scientific findings down to 17…

Right above the tree tops — where most people might think there is just air — Prof. Dan Yakir sees a distinctive atmospheric layer in which all sorts of complex exchanges are taking place. CO2, of course, is one of the important ones, and we still don’t understand all of the ins and outs of…

Mice on Camera

Take a bunch of peculiar individuals, put them all together in one setting; film their every move, every second of the day. Sound familiar? Dr. Tali Kimchi is explicit about the resemblance of her experiments to a well-known reality TV show. The difference, of course, is that Kimchi’s subjects are mice. She places large groups…

Google’s official blog has a post today on the first computer in Israel: WEIZAC, built at the Weizmann Institute in the 1950s. Prof. Aviezri Frenkel gives a charming description of the project, including the fireworks when the machine was first turned on, in the presence of  the VIPS who had come to see the new…

The world – or at least a large swathe of Israel – was their classroom. An unusual international conference for science teaching experts started out at the Clore Garden of Science, on the Weizmann Institute campus. From there the “nomadic” conference made its way down to Eilat at the southern tip of the country, Jerusalem…