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Meet The 2019-2020 Zuckerman Faculty Scholars

This program facilitates the return of top Israeli scholars from North America to join Israeli faculties. Four faculty scholars are entering the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program in 2019. Here are their profiles.

Dr. Limor Freifeld
Zuckerman Faculty Scholar, Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
Relating the fine-scale organization of synapses and neural circuits to brain function by developing fluorescent nanoscopy, neural activity imaging and behavior tracking technologies. Utilizing the larval zebrafish model together with these technologies to both explain the function of intact brains and characterize dysfunction in neurological disorders, thus enabling the development of effective interventions.

Dr. Freifeld’s new Neuro-Engineering lab is part of the Technion’s Faculty of Biomedical Engineering. Her goal is to relate the fine-scale organization of synapses and neural circuits to brain function. In particular, whole-brain function will be monitored using a vertebrate model, the larval zebrafish, with novel methods of non-invasive neural activity imaging and simultaneous behavior tracking. Then, by developing novel variants of expansion microscopy, a fluorescent-nanoscopy technology, the nano-scale organization of synapses and neural circuits in these brains will be captured. Finally, with new analysis methodologies and biophysical models, structure-function relations will be established. In addition to explaining the function of intact brains, these technologies will be applied to characterize dysfunction in neurological disorders and enable the development of effective interventions.

Dr. Freifeld combines excellent engineering abilities with profound knowledge in biology, allowing her to find innovative solutions to outstanding challenges in biology. She obtained a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 2013 and completed two postdoctoral appointments at MIT in the area of neural engineering. Dr. Freifeld has received multiple prestigious fellowships including the Fulbright International Science and Technology award, Stanford’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship (SIGF) and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Simons Center for the Social Brain at MIT.

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Dr. Ido Goldstein
Zuckerman Faculty Scholar, Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition in the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Investigating how liver cells program the expression of different genes in response to altered nutrition, how these programs are derailed in disease, and how we can re-establish them to restore health.

Dr. Goldstein joins the Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition, part of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the Hebrew University. For his postdoctoral work at the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH), he received the National Institutes of Health Fellows Award for Research Excellence.

Dr. Goldstein’s lifelong interest is in how the human body manages to orchestrate the myriad of functions needed for life as well as to respond and adapt to its changing environment. His lab at Hebrew University will investigate how liver cells program the expression of different genes in response to altered nutrition, how these programs are derailed in disease, and how we can re-establish them to restore health. His long-term goal is to produce a meaningful impact on people’s health by providing scientific insights into liver biology, nutrition and gene regulation.

He feels that as a product of Israel’s scientific training programs, he has a responsibility to continue its stellar legacy. As a teacher, he recognizes that most students go into the field because they realize the beauty of science. He tries to constantly remind them of this simple fact and help them graduate with that same passion for science combined with the tools they need to discover more scientific marvels.

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Dr. Moran Shalev-Benami
Zuckerman Faculty Scholar, Department of Structural Biology at Weizmann Institute of Science
Using cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to study the 3D architecture of proteins with the aim of learning how their complicated structures contribute to their ability to mediate cellular functions.

Dr. Shalev-Benami is a faculty member at the Department of Structural Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Before joining the institute, she completed a postdoc fellowship at the University of Michigan and at Stanford University.

Dr. Shalev-Benami uses cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) – a cutting-edge technology that enables visualization of biological molecules at near-atomic resolution – to study the complicated 3D architecture of proteins: macromolecular machineries residing within our cells that mediate every aspect of cellular physiology.

During her postdoctoral studies, Dr. Shalev-Benami worked on visualization of cellular targets residing within the parasitic protozoa Leishmania, a deadly pathogen afflicting millions around the globe. Atomic-level images obtained in this study revealed how anti-leishmanial drugs kill the parasite, and are helping to identify hotspots in the parasitic cell that could be targeted by new therapies.

In her lab, Dr. Shalev-Benami investigates the field of “specialized protein translation” – a recently emerging cellular mechanism that has been shown to regulate key physiological processes including cell differentiation, immune response and maintenance of proper neuronal activity. Her research is expected to shed light on this highly unexplored scientific niche and assist in identifying hotspots for the development of novel, targeted therapeutics.

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Dr. Hadas Soifer
Zuckerman Faculty Scholar, School of Physics and Astronomy at Tel Aviv University
Exploring the possibilities of nonlinear optical phenomena in quantum materials, to enable a better understanding of the coupling of light to topological band structures. Focusing in particular on photocurrent generation – where light absorbed in the material induces a current flow - which is of special promise for paving the way to optical quantum control of currents in devices.

At Tel Aviv University, Dr. Soifer joins the School of Physics and Astronomy. As she explains, modern technology is built upon our deep understanding of materials and their physical properties. Her expertise is in the field of quantum materials in which quantum effects play an important role even on macroscopic scales. She investigates light-matter interactions in these materials using ultrafast time- and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (trARPES). With impressive experimental discoveries already to her credit, Dr. Soifer plans to establish trARPES as a “band-resolved microscope” for the optical properties of topological materials (one class of quantum materials).

Dr. Soifer’s laboratory, unique in Israel in terms of its capabilities in this ground-breaking and fast-developing field, will explore the possibilities of photocurrent generation – a nonlinear optical process where light absorbed in the material induces a current flow. This process is of special promise for paving the way to optical quantum control of currents in devices, and is interesting from a spectroscopic point of view, enabling a better understanding of the coupling of light to topological band structures.

Prior to joining the Tel Aviv University faculty, Dr. Soifer worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford. She was a winner of both Fulbright and Rothschild postdoctoral fellowships.