Ariel University is a great option for students who want to pursue chemistry or other STEM subjects. Why?
There’s real value placed on teaching and on the importance of personal connections with students. Their education is really taken seriously. I think, I hope, that students feel that. Professors are given the opportunity to interact with them, ask them what they want to focus on in their research and help them to develop those fabulous ideas.
We’re also providing opportunities for students to travel to conferences, present their work and interact with other researchers and faculty members. I had students who virtually presented at the American Chemical Society meeting in Atlanta, Georgia last August. Another student traveled to a workshop in the far north and is writing a paper based on the ideas he got during that weekend.
When it comes to the chemical sciences, the possibility to join a group and research whatever you’re interested in is open. Ariel just got a medical school; the university has a strong chemical engineering program; I work closely with the Wine Research Institute; and I’m developing a material sciences program. I think most international students who consider coming are by definition self-starting, ambitious and extremely independent. Ariel University is a really good place to be that kind of person.
You moved to Israel from the U.S. What advice would you give to students who feel nervous about moving to another country?
In the chemistry department, and I think in all the sciences, there’s a tremendous international population. When I was the age of our graduate students, the thought of moving abroad seemed incredibly daunting — a new culture, a different language. But what I see here is that international students form tremendous communities: they travel together, help new students settle in, form sports leagues and have cultural and social celebrations. It’s an enormous strength of the experience here.
Can you tell us about the work you do around wastewater purification?
Our aim is to figure out better methods of chemical detection. I can tell you what’s in my water because I’m a chemist with access to all the instruments that I need, but most people don’t have that capability. I want to develop technology for the general population that’s both as easy to use and cheap as possible, so that people can see if there are lead or other chemicals in their water and be able to make informed decisions about what they consume.
We know that there’s a correlation between exposure to certain compounds and developing some diseases, but we can’t really get a good handle on that mechanism – how it works and how to stop it – if we can’t accurately quantify a person’s exposure.
What would you say to encourage students to specialize in a chemistry subject?
Chemistry has a big image problem not just with students, but with the general population. As chemists, we have to do a much better job of explaining that what we’re doing is really important to make lives easier — and to save them.
There’s chemistry in everything. A lot of major advances in science that people see and use every day are based on chemistry, including Covid-19 antigen and PCR tests; vaccines, including the newly developed Covid-19 vaccines; pregnancy tests; and new sources for clean energy, including more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Men have a much greater representation in STEM subjects than women. What work are you doing to address this issue?
There’s still a significant disparity in the number of men and women who are active and successful in STEM fields. It’s critical to address this issue: the entirety of science benefits from a larger, more inclusive pool of talented individuals joining the field.
What we need to do at all stages, but especially around middle schools, is develop programs that tell girls, we know this is hard, but look how fun it is, what you could discover, how rewarding this can be. I’ve run a chemistry camp for middle school girls in the United States for seven years, and I’m thrilled to bring similar programs to Ariel University. The idea is to give girls positive experiences, strong role models, and to directly say, if this interests you, please continue. We’ll do everything we can to help you.
What advice would you give to students to make most of their time at Ariel?
Students should come into any institution with the expectations that they should ask for things, be self-starters, introduce themselves to more people — that’s how they’re going to get the most out of it.
When they ask me for advice about research, I tell them to think of anything in this world that makes them think: wouldn’t it be nice? Wouldn’t it be nice if my milk got spoiled without smelling? Wouldn’t it be nice if this food didn’t explode all over the cup when I try to heat it up? When I was a student, I was terrified people were going to fix all problems before I’d be able to get into research. It turns out there’s no shortage of problems to be solved.