Local Science Students in YU Program Intern in Israel
Why was a nice Jewish boy from Teaneck handling SQUIDs for seven weeks this summer?
Don’t worry. He wasn’t working with the decidedly non-kosher shellfish. Rather, Ari Krischer was working in Dr. Beena Kalisky’s nanotechnology and advanced materials lab at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, testing a bunch of different SQUIDs — the superconducting quantum interference devices that measure extremely subtle magnetic fields — as a way to investigate all sorts of physical phenomena.
“I measured their characteristics to find the optimal construction parameters to build the most sensitive SQUIDs,” Mr. Krischer, a 21-year-old Cornell engineering physics major, said. “I’m particularly interested in nanotechnology and SQUIDs are one of many techniques I can use to image things on the nanoscale, so it may be of practical use to me at a similar lab at Cornell or in my future career.”
Mr. Krischer was one of two dozen undergraduate science majors participating in the seventh annual Summer Science Research Internship Program, a joint initiative of Bar-Ilan and Yeshiva universities. The program offers Orthodox college students a summer in Israel and the chance to combine high-level research with opportunities for Torah study.
The students in the program are matched with research laboratories based on their academic background and interests, said program director Ari Zivotofsky, a professor in Bar-Ilan’s Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Program. These areas include nanotechnology, brain research, engineering, life sciences, mathematics, chemistry, computer science, physics, and linguistics.
“This program provides talented U.S. university science students the opportunity to become embedded in a high-caliber Israeli university lab, thereby experiencing rather than just hearing about what it’s like to live, learn, and research in Israel,” Dr. Zivotofsky said. “In the labs, they become part of a team and contribute to ongoing projects. Spending their summer with a like-minded group of peers fosters a commitment to research, Israeli science, and religious Zionism.”
The summer interns also make field trips to scientific and industrial sites around Israel, including Israel Aerospace Industries, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and the Volcani Agricultural Research Organization. They dorm at Yeshiva University’s Jerusalem campus and participate in nightly Judaic studies sessions throughout the seven weeks.
Mr. Krischer said that he and some fellow interns voluntarily set up a daily self-taught Talmud study session in the back of the bus that took them on the hour-long ride from Jerusalem to Bar-Ilan’s campus outside Tel Aviv.
“We came here as part of a Torah program with a science bent, so I felt it was a complete circle,” Mr. Krischer said. “We started and ended our day with Torah and did hands-on science in between. This is his second year on the program — he was part of it last summer too — and he hopes to move to Israel after finishing his degree.
Twenty-one-year-old Yael Eisenberg of Passaic worked in the lab of Professor Mina Teicher, who is a former chief scientist at Israel’s Ministry of Science, the director of the Emmy Noether Institute for Mathematics, and a researcher in the department of mathematics and Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center.
Ms. Eisenberg and two Ph.D. students from the math and neuroscience departments designed and coded experiments using a Magneto encephalograph (MEG) machine to discover which area of the brain is used for counting. There are only a few dozen MEG units in the world, and Dr. Teicher’s lab has the first one in Israel.
“It was a real gift to be able to participate in this program and see firsthand how individuals can have a major impact in the field of neuroscience,” Ms. Eisenberg said. “Once we receive data, I will continue working with the team from the States to mathematically analyze the results.”
Ms. Eisenberg explained that her thesis mentor at YU’s Stern College for Women, Professor Marian Gidea, has done research with Professor Teicher and suggested working with her.
“I never imagined myself doing neuroscience research,” Ms. Eisenberg said. “However, I enjoyed it very much. It’s fascinating to see how I can apply my math skills to brain research.”
Ms. Eisenberg is working on combined BA-MA degrees in math and hopes to go on for a Ph.D. Three years ago, she was in Israel with a Stern College professor, Dr. Jill Katz, working on an archeological dig at Tel es-Safi, the biblical town of Gath. A hands-on visit to this site was on the itinerary for the 2017 summer interns, much to her delight.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to see how the dig had progressed, and what new artifacts have been discovered,” Ms. Eisenberg said. “Although we only excavated for a few hours, another student from my program and I managed to excavate an entire olive press from the first Temple period.”
Chavi Cohen of Teaneck worked with a Ph.D. student in the lab of Prof. Yaron Shav-Tal, focusing on the protein beta-catenin. This protein, required for the proper development of tissues in the human body, is associated with many cancers in its mutated form.
Ms. Cohen, a Rutgers biology major, hopes to attend medical school. She has been working at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey for the past year and a half. The project she’s involved with is a collaborative one, working with other cancer institutes, studying chemo-resistance mechanisms in certain mutant cancers.
“This experience in Israel has given me the opportunity to bring the research techniques I learned at Bar-Ilan back to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey where I can further improve my lab skills,” Ms. Cohen said.
Abby Epstein, 20, a rising junior at Stern from Bergenfield, interned in Yarden Opatowsky’s microbiology lab, which researches the proteins involved in cell signaling pathways. These researchers seek insights that someday may help engineer cures for neurodegenerative diseases.
“It was my first time working in a lab, so I came in knowing nothing,” Ms. Epstein said. “Everyone was very patient with me and I learned so many different lab techniques.”
The other local participants in the program were Chani Dubin and Eliana Krim of Teaneck, Benjamin Koslowe of Bergenfield, and Nathaniel Piskun of Tenafly.