Meet The 2017-2018 Zuckerman Postdoctoral Scholars

The Zuckerman Postdoctoral Scholars Program attracts the highest-achieving researchers from premier universities in the United States and Canada to do postdoctoral research in Israel. 17 postdoctoral scholars are entering the STEM Leadership Program in 2017. Here are their profiles.

Dr. Spencer Backman
Postdoc at Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Dr. Backman earned a PhD in Algorithms, Combinatorics, and Optimization at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He went on to do postdoctoral research at the Hausdorff Center for Mathematics in Bonn, Germany. His work has focused on foundational aspects of divisor theory for graphs and tropical curves, which is built on chip-firing, which he describes as “a surprisingly simple game with connections to many different areas of mathematics and the sciences.” In recent years, there has been a great deal of interest in this subject, and it has been utilized to solve several important open problems in number theory and algebraic geometry. He has been called a very independent and creative young mathematician who is working at the forefront of his field.

During graduate school, Dr. Backman was involved with the Emory Tibet Science Initiative, travelling to Dharamsala, India for two summers to teach mathematics to a group of Tibetan monks. (This program was highlighted in the New York Times.)

He will be doing his research at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Postdoc at Weizmann Institute of Science
Dr. Curren came to the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Weizmann from the University of California, Los Angeles. While still a graduate student, she helped establish the UCLA Institute for Planets & Exoplanets.

Also while a student in Los Angeles, she served as a team member working on NASA’s Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment, an instrument that flies aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Diviner is designed to measure surface temperatures on the moon, and Dr. Curren conducted original research using its data.

Dr. Curren’s specialization in laboratory experimentation (used to supplement spacecraft data) has led her to explore the environmental processes that dictate the evolution of materials on the surfaces of solar system bodies. The low temperature (–40º C) chamber at the newly constructed Simulated Planetary Ices and Environments Laboratory (SPICE Lab) at Weizmann allows her to simulate such planetary-like processes.

Colleagues speak of her scientific excellence, but also of her high level of mentorship and outreach leadership, and the joy she takes in disseminating knowledge, improving the communication skills of other scientists, and stimulating the public to take an interest in STEM fields.

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Postdoc at Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Dr. Kramer earned his PhD in theoretical physics at Harvard University. He has worked in theoretical particle physics, theoretical astrophysics, and cosmology. His thesis topic was “Observational Constraints on Dissipative Dark Matter,” and he continues to be interested in the multidisciplinary aspects of dark matter searches, an area that is an increasingly important focus for particle physicists.

Dr. Kramer will be working at the Racah Institute of Physics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he will be able to collaborate with several other researchers who are also interested in dark matter. He hopes to be able to use emerging data from Gaia, a European Space Agency mission that is charting a three-dimensional map of the Milky Way. One colleague commented that Dr. Kramer’s work “takes dark matter in new directions—and these new ideas are needed in order to make big breakthroughs.

Postdoc at Weizmann Institute of Science
Dr. Eby’s PhD in physics from the University of Cincinnati dealt with dark matter, a collection of mass which is observed only through its gravitational interactions at the scale of galaxies; no one has ever detected individual dark matter particles. Study of axion dark matter requires knowledge of fundamental particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology, and condensed matter physics, and Dr. Eby’s expertise extends even beyond these fields. Colleagues have noted that in the past three years, he has written five papers on what is considered a very large range of topics: from axion dark matter to Higgs phenomenology.

In 2016, his talents were recognized at the highest echelons, when he won a U. S. Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research Fellowship, allowing him to perform research for one year at Fermilab, the world-renowned Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. He continues to collaborate with researchers there on dark matter detection. Colleagues comment that his presentations are clear and concise, and he has received superior teaching evaluations.

At the Weizmann Institute of Science, the group of researchers that studies high energy phenomenology within the Department of Particle Physics & Astrophysics is eagerly anticipating his arrival.

Postdoc at Tel Aviv University
Dr. Gallagher earned a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine. She completed her BA in International Relations (honors) with a minor in Biology from Wellesley College and earned a MS in Plant Biology and Conservation from Northwestern University. Most flowering plants and many of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. Recent changes in climate may disrupt these ecologically and economically important relationships. Through her research, Dr. Gallagher addresses questions about the mechanisms governing how global climate change affects plant-pollinator interactions and the extent to which changes in the levels of pollination influence the ecology and evolution of plant populations. Her doctoral research was supported with a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Gallagher has strong interest in furthering opportunities in ecology for students and educators from diverse backgrounds and also in promoting a public understanding and interest in science. As a graduate student, she developed and presented a range of educational outreach and development programs, including a two-day discipline-specific pedagogical training for incoming teaching assistants, as well as four animated videos of classical ecology papers. She has presented her research at numerous national and international meetings, including the Ecological Society of America, where she held leadership positions as co-chair of the Ecological Society of America’s Student Section and representative to the Public Affairs Committee in Washington D.C. Dr. Gallagher has been recognized for her public outreach with a Public Impact Fellowship and for her teaching with a Steinhaus Teaching Award and Pedagogical Fellowship.

At Tel Aviv University, Dr. Gallagher will be investigating the ecological and evolutionary processes that maintain continuous color variation and the existence of extremely dark flowers in the native endemic Royal Irises (Iris section Oncocyclus) in the lab of Dr. Yuval Sapir. She is looking forward to exploring the evolutionary ecology of plants and the interface of genetics and ecology.

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Postdoc at Weizmann Institute of Science
Dr. Ganz earned her PhD in Molecular Nutrition at Cornell, with minors in Chemistry and Biochemistry. She was awarded an NIH T32 Training Grant for Translational Research, and her research has spanned from cells to human subjects. Her doctoral thesis, “Investigating genetic and biochemical differences in nutrient metabolism,” underscores the inter-individual differences in vitamin metabolism that occur at recommended intakes, and highlights the need for personalized nutrient recommendations to achieve optimal and equal outcomes for everyone. Her work elucidating biochemical mechanisms of folate metabolism in the nucleus may have implications for human health and disease.

At Weizmann, she plans to investigate the impact of gut microbiota on aging, and her goal is to improve human health through personalized nutrition.

Dr. Ganz was active in academic outreach throughout her time at Cornell, mentoring undergraduate students, co-teaching a weekly computer science course to a local high school chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Jr., as well as a five-week mini-course on experiments in chemistry and biology to local elementary school students. She is known as an outstanding mentor who provides a valuable learning experience in a supportive environment.

Postdoc at Tel Aviv University
Dr. Harel completed his PhD in Mathematics at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and then served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Geneva and the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques in Paris. His research focuses on probability theory and statistical physics, with a broad emphasis on discrete systems that undergo phase-transition phenomena.

Many random systems that describe the physical world, even those with very simple descriptions, can have dramatically different behaviors at different temperatures, such as solid ice turning to liquid water at a prescribed temperature. This phenomenon has been a major field of study in both the physical and mathematical communities, providing insight into how simple atoms create complex materials. Dr. Harel is interested in taking the many insights gained by physicists and giving them a rigorous mathematical basis.

This field of study lies at the intersection of many mathematical fields, such as probability theory, analysis, combinatorics, and exactly solvable systems. Dr. Harel is very excited to continue his research in Tel Aviv University, where he hopes to participate in the groundbreaking work led by Prof. Ron Peled, as well as reap the benefits of being part of the wider mathematical community in Israel.

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Postdoc at Tel Aviv University
Dr. Jerison completed his Ph.D. in mathematics at Stanford University and then served as Visiting Assistant Professor at Cornell University. His strong interest in teaching, mentoring, and developing curriculum led to excellent teaching reviews. He is valued as a “sounding board,” with a way of restating difficult material in a particularly transparent way.

Dr. Jerison studies systems governed by simple rules that nonetheless exhibit complex behaviors, such as phase transitions—for instance, when a slight temperature increase causes ice to melt into liquid water; and threshold phenomena—for instance, when a small extra deposit of soil causes a stable slope to topple over into a landslide. At the point where a phase transition occurs, the system is quite unstable: small localized fluctuations easily propagate into macroscopic effects. In his work, he aims to provide precise mathematical characterizations of this instability for models of interest.

Dr. Jerison looks forward to developing collaborative relationships at the School of Mathematical Sciences, Tel Aviv University. He calls Israel a world center for research in probability theory, and he hopes to work with researchers at other Israeli universities as well.

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Postdoc at Tel Aviv University
Dr. Kostinski received her doctorate in physics from Harvard University. She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, and has conducted research at Princeton and internationally in Russia and Australia. Her research interests include optics, soft condensed matter, statistical physics, and discrete geometry.

She hopes to perform important research on the optics of complex systems. Dr. Kostinski is noted for her remarkable intellectual breadth, excellent communication skills, and her ability to transcend disciplines. She has served as a mentor in Harvard’s Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (WISTEM) program, MIT’s Research Science Institute, and is a musician as well—she was principal second violinist of the Harvard Dudley Orchestra.

At Tel Aviv University she is conducting research under the guidance of Dr. Shlomi Reuveni in the School of Chemistry, working on theoretical aspects of statistical and biological physics.

Postdoc at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
Dr. Lynch’s doctorate is from the Center for Gravitation, Cosmology, and Astrophysics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has also done graduate work at the prestigious Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Waterloo, Ontario. His thesis involved the theoretical aspects of particle dynamics under the influence of large accelerations, and for his postdoc work, he hopes to bridge this theoretical background with direct laboratory experience.

At the Technion, Dr. Lynch plans to do a joint postdoc with researchers in both the physics and the electrical engineering departments. Several years ago, he read an article these researchers had published in the journal Nature Physics. He contacted them, and has been developing ideas with them ever since. The Zuckerman scholarship gives them the opportunity to finally pursue the joint research directions they have been discussing.


He has also worked hard on his teaching skills. While still an undergraduate, Dr. Lynch along with some other students, went on week-long “physics roadshow” tours, where they gave presentations demonstrating physics concepts to grade school students. His interest in pedagogy continued into his graduate teaching years, where he consistently received positive instructor evaluations from his students.

Postdoc at Weizmann Institute of Science
Dr. Prywes began his postdoctoral work at the Weizmann Institute of Science this past year, where he worked on RuBisCO-dependent E. coli evolution. This coming year at Weizmann, his project, dealing with making carbon fixation more efficient, will involve collaboration with the newly-formed Innovative Genomics Institute at UC Berkeley. Potentially such research could lead to reducing the amount of land used for crop production, with important possible implications for global food productivity and security, as well as for the global energy supply.

Although his PhD from Harvard was in chemistry, he is interested in using our understanding of metabolism and the emerging field of synthetic biology for the benefit of humanity.

At Harvard, he organized and hosted a “journal club”, finding multidisciplinary speakers who presented an academic topic of their choice in a setting that encouraged questions. Topics included magnetosensation in pigeons, the epidemiology of Ebola, the nitrogen cycle on the earth, CRISPR and quantum computing and many non-scientific topics.  Dr. Prywes also served as a volunteer tutor with the Boston University College in Prison Program at a Massachusetts Correctional Institution. He comments that his students there were unfailingly enthusiastic, deeply engaged and startlingly insightful.

Postdoc at Tel Aviv University
Dr. Smarsh’s doctoral dissertation, at the biology department of Texas A&M University, focused on the behavioral significance of singing in an African species of false vampire bat. After setting up a field site in Tanzania, learning Swahili, and training a team of Tanzanians, her research involved tracking bats with VHF telemetry, recording songs of individuals, and conducting acoustic playback experiments to determine the relationship between foraging territories and singing behavior.

At Tel Aviv University, Dr. Smarsh will continue studying bat acoustic and spatial behavior with Dr. Yossi Yovel, using novel GPS and microphone tagging technology to track Tadarida teniotis while studying their dynamic movements and vocal emissions. The study will facilitate understanding of how small, fast-flying, nocturnal animals use social information while foraging, while also collecting valuable data for species conservation. Bats are integral to ecosystem health and benefit agricultural systems through pest control. Dr. Smarsh hopes her research will provide key information on bat movement ecology and behavior necessary to help determine how populations respond to environmental changes, such as disease, pollutants, hunting, and decimated food sources.

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Postdoc at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
Dr. Stark’s PhD was in mathematics at Tufts University. Following that, she spent a year at the Mathematics Department of the University of Haifa, and is currently at the Technion. Her research lies within low-dimensional topology and geometric group theory, a field that aims to understand the algebraic properties of infinite groups, the geometry of spaces on which groups act, and the connections between the two.

Dr. Stark is collaborating on a research project with current Zuckerman Postdoctoral Student Matthew Cordes, who will also be at the Technion this year.

Dr. Stark is dedicated to her teaching, and served as a teaching assistant at Tufts and at CIRM (Centre International de Rencontres Mathématiques) in Luminy, France, as well as outside the academy, where she led Math Circles for elementary and secondary students, and volunteered at the Museum of Science in Boston.

A member of a research group she was part of comments that any time they were stuck on a problem, it was often Stark who made an interesting observation that propelled the discussion further. The many conference talks she has given are proof of the interest of the mathematical community in her work, and her publishing record is considered remarkable for a young scholar.

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Dr. Nick Wadleigh
Postdoc at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
Dr. Wadleigh earned his PhD in mathematics at Brandeis University. His work lies at the intersection of dynamical systems and metric number theory. The connection between these fields has seen great development in recent decades.

At the Technion, Dr. Wadleigh will join an active group engaged in research in a wide range of related topics. The group’s work can be expected to lead to significant joint research projects. In the future, Dr. Wadleigh hopes to extend his work on uniform Diophantine approximation and to discover new threads connecting dynamics with number theory.

Postdoc at Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Dr. Weinstein aspires to improve our understanding of coral reef sedimentology and to educate the public and new scientists about this important topic in marine science. He is also interested in studying coastal erosion and sea-level fluctuations. His PhD, from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, was entitled Deep reef bioerosion and deposition: Sedimentology of mesophotic coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands. His research provided one of the first in-depth analyses of the structural foundation of deeper coral reefs (called mesophotic reefs), allowing for estimates of their sustained health and past and future growth potential. This is especially important as these reefs are considered potential refugia for species from their endangered shallow-water counterparts.

After his doctoral studies, David did postdoctoral work at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, where he analyzed mesophotic coral reef recovery after major typhoon damage, as well as sedimentary characteristics of these deep systems.

In Israel, David will be researching the evolution, age, and past sea level history of submerged fossil terraces in the Gulf of Aqaba, which form the basis for the Israel’s critical modern mesophotic coral reef ecosystems.

Colleagues comment on David’s ability to clearly communicate to both scientific and general audiences. In fact, he managed the data collection for his dissertation research by including high school and undergraduate students in his research. These students loved working with Dr. Weinstein, and have presented their work in academic settings. Dr. Weinstein is a scuba diver himself, who has joined other recreational divers on weekends, and given outreach talks to them.

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Postdoc at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
Dr. Weiss received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Stanford University. In his graduate work, he developed customized microscopes capable of detecting and tracking individual molecules in living cells using fluorescence.

With collaborators in the biology department, Dr. Weiss applied these ultrasensitive techniques to investigate the Hedgehog signaling pathway – a critical mechanism that helps give rise to the spatial patterning in developing embryos, but has also been identified as a key culprit in up to 25% of cancer deaths. This collaboration led to the discovery of distinct behavioral changes that occur in the motions of individual proteins on the surface of cells, thereby helping elucidate what it means for the pathway to be active or inactive.

At the Technion, Dr. Weiss joins the lab of current Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program Faculty Scholar Yoav Shechtman to develop methods that will more accurately measure molecular interactions. Professor Shechtman says, “Weiss will be an incredibly valuable addition to the lab, bringing in a broad range of expertise.”

Colleagues speak of his enthusiasm and rich interdisciplinary approach spanning not only chemistry and microscopy, but neuro-, cell, and cancer biology as well.  He himself believes that building scientific collaborations between the United States and Israel strengthens opportunities for everyone and promotes a more stable and interconnected world.

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