Meet The 2017-2018 Zuckerman Israeli Postdoctoral Scholars

The Zuckerman Israeli Postdoctoral Program provides support to Israeli postdoctoral researchers who would like to study and do research in the U.S. 9 Israeli postdoctoral scholars are entering the STEM Leadership Program in 2017. Here are their profiles.

Dr. Inbar (Hotzen) Grinberg
Postdoc at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Dr. (Hotzen) Grinberg received her PhD from the Technion Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. Her research focused on MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical Systems) actuators, and the ability to manipulate their responses using smartly placed directional elements. She implemented these directional elements in electrostatic, thermoelastic and piezoelectric actuators.

Now Dr. (Hotzen) Grinberg joins the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she plans to further develop her skills in micro/nano fabrication. She hopes to enhance her knowledge in the fields of topological insulators, non reciprocal systems, acoustics and optics. Furthermore, she looks forward to interacting with fellow researchers in seminars and conferences, and to establishing networking that may lead to future collaborations.

At the Technion, she was extremely popular as a teaching assistant in highly attended mandatory courses, winning five awards for outstanding performance as a TA. One advisor commented that her success, in addition to her natural didactic talent, reflected her deep and thorough understanding of the material, and her meticulous preparation.

Dr. Adi Ashkenazi
Postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Fermilab
Dr. Ashkenazi completed her graduate research at Tel Aviv University, as part of the ATLAS collaboration at the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (outside Geneva). The standard model of particle physics describes the universe using a set of elementary particles and the interactions between them, but it is known to be incomplete, implying the existence of a new physics. Dr. Ashkenazi is interested in any evidence for such new physics.

Specifically, Dr. Ashkenazi is looking at neutrinos, the only particles with yet unknown properties and which cause inconsistency of the standard model by having a mass. This year, she will join the MicroBooNE experiment at Fermilab in Illinois in which her advisors at MIT serve as active collaborators. According to the Israeli national academy of sciences, not enough Israeli researchers are engaged in nuclear research, so Dr. Ashkenazi’s experiences as part of the international nuclear community (at the intersection between particle and nuclear physics) could potentially contribute to enhancing Israel’s role in this area.

She has won teaching prizes and, aside from her graduate teaching duties, has taught or guided in many diverse settings as the Bloomfield Science Museum, the Bonn Physics Show, and at gender education workshops.

Postdoc at the University of California, Los Angeles
Dr. Azencot acquired his PhD at the Computer Science Department at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. His interest areas include geometry processing and physically-based simulations. He was involved in work related to three-dimensional shape analysis, discrete representation of tangent vector fields as well as other differential operators, and simulation of two-dimensional incompressible flows and thin films phenomena on curved surfaces.

While working on his PhD, Dr. Azencot had the honor of collaborating with researchers at École Polytechnique in France, Göttingen University in Germany, and the University of Bonn in Germany. He has received multiple awards, most notably the Adams fellowship, awarded yearly to about 10 Israeli PhD students across all fields.

His postdoctoral position is at the Department of Mathematics at UCLA, where he will be working with Prof. Andrea Bertozzi on applied math projects.

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Postdoc at Princeton University
Deep learning, one of the most significant recent developments in machine learning, has been responsible for leaps in performance in computer vision, speech recognition, and natural language processing. Dr. Cohen, whose PhD in computer science and engineering is from the Hebrew University, uses the branch of mathematics called tensor analysis to examine the expressive power of deep networks to better understand how to make use of these networks for increasingly bigger problems that may eventually span human level perception capabilities.

Dr. Cohen’s deep mathematical understanding and his ability to explain abstract concepts clearly have made him a valued colleage, and also led to an outstanding teaching record. He was the lead teaching assistant for a new course, “Computer Vision,” at the Hebrew University. The course ran for four years and grew from 30 students to around 100 in the fourth year. Dr. Cohen organized the course and was responsible for the other teaching assistants who taught in it. He was ranked among the top five teaching assistants of his department.

Postdoc at Stanford University
Dr. Gokhman is a pioneer in a new field called “paleo-epigenetics”— using bioinformatic analyses to research the recent history of mankind. His doctorate in genetics at Hebrew University analyzed Neanderthal and ancient Homo sapiens DNA samples to reveal the first epigenetic landscape of extinct hominids. This work demonstrated how new technology in combination with innovative thought can address questions that were previously beyond our reach.

Dr. Gokhman’s work on methylation in ancient hominins shows that it is largely similar to that in humans, but the differences that exist seem to be related to differing lifestyles and physiologies. For instance, our vocal tract has gone through a particularly rapid evolution that is not shared by archaic human groups. This work was published in Science, and was covered by more than 200 science and news websites.

During his graduate studies, Dr. Gokhman served as scientific coordinator of the Alpha program for high-school matriculation projects, which allows gifted high-school students to delve into scientific research.

At Stanford, Dr. Gokhman intends to use a new experimental system developed there to study the evolution of the human muscular system, focusing on skeletal myocytes, the main muscle cells that determine fitness, endurance and strength capabilities.

Dr. Tal Iram
Postdoc at Stanford University
Dr. Iram earned her PhD in neuroscience Tel Aviv University. As part of her work, she spent two years as a visiting student at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. There, she studied astrocytes, cells that clear debris from the brain. Her work has implications for our understanding of the role of these cells in Alzheimer's disease.

At Stanford, Dr. Iram plans to work with mice, trying to understand how normal molecular changes occurring with age alter the activity of adult neural stem populations. This could potentially lay the ground for manipulating adult neurogenesis to overcome, and possibly prevent, aging-related cognitive decline. Her project stems from findings showing that circulatory factors in the blood of young mice can increase neurogenesis, spatial learning, and memory in old mice, but Dr. Iram’s solid grounding in behavioral and cellular neuroscience qualifies her to explore the molecular basis of these findings.

Dr. Iram was recently appointed to the editorial board of the Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, the first graduate student in such a position.

In 2014, together with Prof. Illana Gozes, she founded the Israeli national competition in neuroscience for high school students, as part of an international neuroscience competition for high school students called the International Brain­Bee. Overall, over 500 Israeli students enrolled in the program. This year, for the third year in a row, students will compete to represent Israel in the annual international competition

Dr. Assaf Ramot
Postdoc at the University of California, San Diego
Dr. Ramot’s background in behavioral neuroscience and psychology have provided him with a good understanding of animal behavior, and he has substantial experience with high-end imaging technology. The combination of these abilities is indispensable these days for research in systems neuroscience, and he is moving from an impressive doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science to new research at the University of California, San Diego, where he will use computational neuroscience approaches as well.

Dr. Ramot is intrigued by the biological processes underlying the remarkable ability of humans (and other animals) to adapt movements in an ever changing environment. At San Diego, as a post-doc in Dr. Takaki Komiyama’s lab, he will use mice to explore the brain mechanisms underlying motor learning processes, especially those that can be relevant to human pathological conditions like Parkinson’s, Huntington, and other motor deficits. The integrative approach that he will develop could be readily applied to different forms of learning to better understand the neural basis of learning and memory at large.

As a graduate student, Dr. Ramot was devoted to establishing state-of-the-art brain clearing and imaging techniques, which he used for his own project, and then went on, at great effort, to make available for the entire Weizmann community.

Dr. Yoni Schattner
Postdoc at Stanford University
Dr. Schattner’s achievements in his PhD research at the Weizmann Institute of Science have been called remarkable. He dealt with high-temperature superconductivity, using a novel approach to a long-standing class of problems in condensed-matter physics. In the early stages of his PhD, Dr. Schattner mastered the intricacies of the determinant quantum Monte Carlo (DQMC) technique; now his collaborators are all using the code that he wrote.

Dr. Schattner is known as a sharp communicator and a deep thinker, with an easy-going personality. A deep and careful scientist who is good at getting to the heart of the physics and pinpointing the key issues, his interests are broad, beyond his specific projects, and he has closely collaborated with a number of groups in different parts of the world.

He will do his postdoctoral work at the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences and at the prestigious SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, located close to the Stanford campus.

Dr. Eitan Schechtman-Drayman
Postdoc at Northwestern University
Following his work with human subjects as an undergraduate, in his PhD research at the Edmond and Lily Safra for Brain Sciences (ELSC) at Hebrew University, Dr. Schectman-Drayman turned to the single neuron level in monkeys. He explored the involvement of the basal ganglia in decision‑making and learning, discoveries that may turn out to be of high clinical relevance for psychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia and major depression.

At Northwestern, Dr. Schectman-Drayman will work on developing therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), using targeted memory reactivation (TMR), a non-invasive, easily implemented and robust method that manipulates the course of learning and strengthens specific memories during slow-wave sleep. He would like to find out if TMR can control not only what we remember but also what we forget. His work will help us understand how memory stability depends on sleep, and may also improve the efficacy of clinical therapies for various other disorders. He will test his theories using biological-based measures such as EEG and other, mostly non-invasive, tools.

Dr. Schectman-Drayman has been an active volunteer within the LGBT community, including organizing several Jerusalem Pride marches. He has led scientific outreach programs for teens from many different backgrounds.