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Meet The 2019-2020 Zuckerman Israeli Postdoctoral Scholars

This program provides support to Israeli postdoctoral researchers who would like to study and do research in the U.S.
10 Israeli Postdoctoral scholars are entering the Zuckerman STEM Program in 2019. Here are their profiles.

Dr. Miri Adler
Postdoc at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Combining mathematical models and in vitro co-culture experiments to investigate the question of how protective tissue repair can evolve into a disease state of excessive scarring, namely fibrosis, if an injury is severe or repetitive. Trying to ascertain which biological parameters (such as secretion rates of growth factors or cell division/death rates) can abrogate fibrosis, in order to identify potential therapeutic targets.

Tissue processes involve communication between several cell types by means of diverse secreted factors and cell contact signals. In her doctoral studies in the Molecular Cell Biology Department at Weizmann, Dr. Adler studied mathematically how healthy tissues maintain a proper ratio between their constituent cell types, uncovering design principles that allow cell-cell communication circuits to achieve homeostasis. For her postdoc at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, she would like to extend this approach, combining it with in vitro co-culture experiments to tackle a more complex problem, this one with clinical importance: the question of how protective tissue repair can evolve into a disease state of excessive scarring, namely fibrosis, if an injury is severe or repetitive. Fibrosis appears in many tissues including the lung, liver, heart, and kidney, where it impairs tissue function and ultimately leads to organ failure and death. The mechanisms dictating whether proper repair or pathological fibrosis will occur remain unclear. Dr. Adler will try to ascertain which biological parameters (such as secretion rates of growth factors or cell division/death rates) can abrogate fibrosis, in order to identify potential therapeutic targets.

Dr. Adler is a scientific writer at the Davidson Institute of Science Education in Israel, where she writes about scientific discoveries in a way that is accessible to the public.

Dr. Doron Azoury
Postdoc at MIT
Combining state-of-the-art attosecond metrology together with time- and angle- resolved photo-emission measurements, aiming to resolve and eventualy control hitherto unexplored phenomena in quantum materials, in a completely new way.

In condensed matter physics, progress in the field of “quantum materials” – systems that exhibit a variety of exotic quantum phenomena stemming from strong correlations between their internal quantum degrees of freedom – has led to landmark discoveries. Yet the ability to understand, control and design these systems strongly depends on the availability of experimental methods that can disentangle the different degrees of freedom. Light-matter interaction based measurements can fulfill this requirement through manipulation of the fundamental properties of light.

During his PhD, in the Department of Physics of Complex Systems at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Dr. Azoury developed a variety of spectroscopy and control schemes for studying extremely non-linear light-matter interactions by combining attosecond metrology (1 attosecond =10-18 seconds) with the concept of interferometry (using superimposed electromagnetic waves to extract phase information). Applying these schemes led to observations of fundamental electron dynamics in atomic and molecular systems, as well as the detection of weak chiral interactions (providing distinguishability between the mirror-image forms of asymmetric structures), in the extreme ultraviolet range.

At MIT, in the Department of Condensed Matter Physics, Dr. Azoury plans to implement state-of-the-art attosecond metrology together with time- and angle- resolved photo-emission measurements, aiming to resolve hitherto unexplored phenomena in quantum materials. He hopes his work will eventually help to observe, understand and control electron dynamics in quantum materials in a completely new way.

Dr. Renata Balgley
Postdoc at Caltech
Investigating novel approaches for selective chemical functionalization of silicon systems to achieve desirable chemical and electronic properties for use in solar cells and other types of energy-related applications.

Dr. Balgley’s multidisciplinary studies are highly complex, requiring in-depth knowledge of chemistry, electrochemistry, surface science, and physics. For her PhD from the School of Chemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science, she worked in functional molecular materials design to address new frontiers in electron transfer reactions at metal-organic interfaces. Her key achievements include the development of unique composite materials for the fabrication of new types of solar cells and charge-storage devices. She is already a co-inventor on a granted patent. In the Department of Chemistry at Caltech, Dr. Balgley will continue her focus on the reactivity of semiconductor surfaces, designing novel approaches for surface functionalization with molecular materials, this time for energy-related applications.

Dr. Balgley plans to collaborate with scientists from academia and industry to incorporate these technologies into real-world applications, with the goal of making a significant contribution to one of the most sought-after goals of science today: developing sustainable, fossil-free pathways to produce fuels and chemicals needed to make the products we use on a daily basis.

Dr. Balgley has been involved in youth education programs, developing hands-on lab projects suitable for the age group and skills of the young participants and mentoring them throughout their projects.

Dr. Hadar Elor
Postdoc at Cornell Tech
Gathering computer graphics and vision in unsupervised or semi-supervised settings, where labelled data is unavailable. Exploring how to leverage deep neural networks to boost clustering performance in challenging multimodal settings, improving image-to-image translation, and, in general, organizing visual information in a useful manner.

Dr. Elor’s research focus is on the analysis of large heterogeneous image collections, a topic that is on the frontier of computer vision research today, and to which she has already made several important contributions. The question she addresses is how to organize visual information in a useful manner.

While working on her PhD from Tel Aviv University in Electrical Engineering, she and her thesis advisor taught the computer graphics, vision, and image-processing course.

For her postdoctoral research in the Computer Science Department at Cornell Tech, Dr. Elor plans to work on gathering computer graphics and vision in unsupervised or semi-supervised settings, where labelled data is unavailable. In semi-supervised settings, she will explore how to leverage deep neural networks to boost clustering performance in challenging multimodal settings. In unsupervised settings, she will work on improving image-to-image translation.

In the past, Dr. Elor has worked as a research scientist in the Amazon AI computer vision team; as a research intern at Facebook, where she dealt with animating human faces, starting from just a single image; and as an image processing engineer at the Israeli government company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

Dr. Ron Feiner
Postdoc at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Integrating sensors with microelectronic devices in order to study tumor and organ development from within. The goal is to develop better tools that will help gather more information on the early stages of tumor development, with the hope that these will lead to better methods for early diagnosis and treatment.

For his doctorate at Tel Aviv University in the School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Dr. Feiner worked on incorporating electronics into engineering cardiac patches that could both monitor the electrical activity of the tissue and intervene in its functionality.

In the Molecular Pharmacology Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, he plans to work on integrating the sensors that the lab there has already developed with the microelectronic devices he created during his doctoral work in order to study tumor and organ development from within. The goal is to develop better tools that will help gather more information on the early stages of tumor development, with the hope that these will lead to better methods for early diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Feiner is fascinated with biotechnology because it is where creativity takes the lead, meets basic science and enables researchers to be in the forefront of change. He wants to help advance the field of biomedicine for both basic research and clinical applications. In addition, he aims to lead a group of students that will cement Israel’s position in an exclusive club of countries that will help revolutionize the world of biomedical research and regenerative medicine.

Dr. Tal Gilboa
Postdoc at Harvard Medical School
Working on single-molecule biosensors that have the potential to detect biomarkers quickly, with low sample requirements, low cost, and high throughput, potentially leading to earlier detection of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s before significant neurodegeneration has occurred.

In order for medicine to move towards individualized treatment based on a patient’s own characteristics, it is vital to be able to sense biological markers for different diseases early on with high accuracy and sensitivity. At Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute, Dr. Gilboa will be developing new biosensing technologies for biomarkers of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to allow early detection, before significant neurodegeneration has occurred. She will be working on single-molecule biosensors, which have the potential to discover and detect biomarkers quickly, with low sample requirements, and at a low cost. She expects to increase the detection sensitivity, throughput and multiplexing capabilities of single molecule arrays by developing, miniaturizing and integrating microfluidic lab-on-chip approaches and electro-optical sensing for high-throughput detection assays. Eventually she hopes to develop breakthroughs in the field of personalized diagnostics.

Dr. Gilboa is interested in the design of computerized medical equipment, and has taught courses on the subject to both undergraduate and graduate students. She was the leader of the Biomedical Engineering team for supporting women in science and engineering at the Technion.

DR. Dvir Harris
Postdoc at MIT
Hoping to better understand the structure-function relationships at the heart of photosynthetic light harvesting by using structural biology along with advanced spectroscopic and biochemical methods to probe the extremely efficient energy transfer dynamics shown by photosynthetic proteins. This could potentially inform new energy sources, facilitating the development of novel applications that could eventually lead to improving crop yields and integrating biomolecules into bio-hybrid solar cell devices or generating artificial, bio-inspired light harvesting units.

Dr. Harris earned his PhD in the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. He was a lab instructor and teaching assistant there for several years, and says that he remains eager to convey the amazing science that chemistry is. He hopes to continue evolving as a teacher even while generating high-quality science as a researcher.

For his postdoctoral research, he hopes to address major gaps in our knowledge about photosynthesis. Photosynthetic proteins not only power life on earth, but also exhibit extremely efficient energy transfer. They could potentially inform new energy sources if we could better understand the mechanisms by which they harvest sunlight. At MIT, Dr. Harris will be building on his expertise in structural biology to probe energy transfer dynamics using advanced spectroscopic and biochemical methods, hoping to better understand the structure-function relationships at the heart of photosynthetic light harvesting. Such understanding could facilitate the development of novel applications that could eventually lead to improving crop yields and integrating biomolecules into bio-hybrid solar cell devices or generating artificial, bio-inspired light harvesting units. Dr. Harris believes that the knowledge he brings back to Israel after his postdoc could make a strong impact on Israeli plant biophysical research.

Dr. Shifra Lansky
Postdoc at Weill Cornell Medicine
Using the pioneering high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM) method to advance our basic scientific knowledge regarding the conformational dynamics and gating mechanisms of GIRK channels at a single-molecule level, including their protein-protein interaction dynamics with their G-protein activators and their interaction with various drugs. Her research is expected to further drug development against the many diseases that involve GIRK channels.

Dr. Lansky earned her PhD in Chemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she used X-ray crystallography and other complementary biophysical methods to determine the atomic-resolution structures and mechanisms of proteins. She focused specifically on the proteins composing the hemicellulose utilization systems in thermophilic bacteria, and managed to determine the structural and dynamic factors contributing to their substrate specificities, binding interactions, and catalytic mechanisms.

For her postdoctoral studies, Dr. Lansky will conduct research at Cornell Weill Medical College in New York. She will use the pioneering high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM) technique to directly observe the conformational dynamics and gating mechanisms of transmembrane receptor channels at a single-molecule-scale. She plans to focus specifically on the G-protein gated inward rectifier K+ (GIRK) channels, and their protein-protein interaction dynamics with their G-protein activators. Dr. Lansky hopes that the information that will be obtained from this research will advance the basic scientific knowledge available for GIRK channels, and will also advance our understanding of the mechanisms by which drugs interact with GIRK channels and alter their gating behavior, furthering drug development against the many diseases that involve GIRK channels.

Dr. Yoav Matia
Postdoc at Cornell University
Exploring advanced fluid-structure interactions, for example, when fluid flow involves liquid that chemically reacts or interacts with the surrounding solid. Such interactions may include swellable material, such as solution or wall material where, depending on its physical chemistry, swelling or shrinking occurs. Thus the choice of fluid material used plays an active role in the interaction.

Dr. Matia completed his Ph.D. in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Technion, where he studied fluid-structure interactions where viscous effects are predominant. These problems are of significant interest in the swimming of micro-organisms, blood flow in small vesicles, geophysical flows and viscous peeling.

At Cornell, in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, Dr. Matia is analyzing the transient dynamics of fluid-solid composite structures, an interdisciplinary research subject that straddles theoretical fluid mechanics, soft robotics, soft actuators, and composite structures. (Soft robots are made from soft, elastic materials and are used where rigid robots are not viable, for example, for drug delivery or assistive devices.) Specifically, Dr. Matia explores advanced fluid-structure interactions, for example, when fluid flow involves liquid that chemically reacts or interacts with the surrounding solid. Such interactions may include swellable material, such as solution or wall material where, depending on its physical chemistry, swelling or shrinking occurs. Thus the choice of fluid material used plays an active role in the interaction. He hopes that both theory and experiments can be used to produce new discoveries with potential applications in science, industry, and medicine.

Dr. Matia spent over 10 years working in industry as a mechanical engineer, contributing to his wide knowledge in the field and his maturity as a scientist. He is a member of the Israeli Association of Engineers and the American Physical Society.

Dr. Michael Peer
Postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania
Investigating how the brain represents large-scale space, and how it represents non-spatial knowledge as cognitive maps. Such research could potentially lead to a better understanding of how people perceive, behave, and navigate in large-scale space; why some people are better navigators in such environments than others; and how to develop tools for diagnosing and treating disorientation, a debilitating part of many neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Dr. Peer earned his PhD in Neurobiology at Hebrew University. While working on his doctorate, he served as a teaching assistant at Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine, and later as a lecturer at the Hadassah Nursing School.

Dr. Peer’s research uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and advanced data analysis techniques to investigate the neural systems that underlie spatial navigation and cognition in humans. During our daily lives, we structure and organize knowledge about the world around us, forming maps and connections between real world elements as well as between abstract concepts and ideas. At the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Peer will investigate, firstly, how the brain represents large-scale space, and secondly, how it represents non-spatial knowledge as cognitive maps. His research could lead to a better understanding of how people perceive, behave, and navigate in large-scale space, and why some people are good navigators in such environments while others struggle. Understanding disorientation, a debilitating part of many neurological and psychiatric disorders, could in turn enable the development of novel diagnostic tools for these disorders, as well as navigational aids and cognitive training regimes.