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The Science of Tomorrow: Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in Israel

Reported by:
Benjamin Schroeder

Presented by:
Blavatnik Family Foundation
The New York Academy of Sciences


The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in Israel is one of the largest prizes ever created for early-career researchers in Israel. Given annually to three outstanding, early-career faculty from Israeli universities in three categories—Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Chemistry—the awards recognize extraordinary scientific achievements and promote excellence, originality, and innovation.

On August 2, 2021, the New York Academy of Sciences celebrated the 2020 and 2021 Laureates at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem, Israel. The multidisciplinary symposium, chaired by Israel Prize winners Adi Kimchi and Mordechai (Moti) Segev, featured a series of lectures on everything from a new class of RNA to self-assembling nanomaterials.

In this eBriefing, you’ll learn:

  • The secret life of bats, and how the brain shapes animal behavior
  • How genetic information in unchartered areas of the human genome—known as long noncoding RNA—could be used to develop treatments for cancer, brain injury, and epilepsy
  • Creative ways of generating light, X-rays, and other types of radiation for practical applications such as medical imaging and security scanners
  • The intricate choreography of protein assembly within cells, and how this dance may go awry in disease


Yossi Yovel, PhD
Tel Aviv University

Igor Ulitsky, PhD
Weizmann Institute of Science

Emmanuel Levy, PhD
Weizmann Institute of Science

Ido Kaminer, PhD
Israel Institute of Technology

Life Sciences of Tomorrow


Yossi Yovel, PhD
Tel Aviv University

Igor Ulitsky, PhD
Weizmann Institute of Science

From Bat Brains to Navigating Robots

Yossi Yovel, PhD, Tel Aviv University 

In this presentation, Yossi Yovel describes his studies on bats and their use of echolocation to perceive and navigate through the world. To monitor bats behaving in their natural environment, he has developed miniaturized trackers—the smallest in the world—capable of simultaneously detecting location, ultrasonic sounds, movement, heart rate, brain activity, and body temperature changes.

By attaching these small sensors to many individual bats, Yovel is able to monitor large groups of free-flying bats—a task which would be almost impossible in other mammals. His current and future studies include applying bat echolocation theory to engineering acoustic control of autonomous vehicles.

Further Readings


Moreno, K. R., Weinberg, M., Harten, L., Salinas Ramos, V. B., Herrera M, L. G., Czirják, G. Á., & Yovel, Y.

Sick bats stay home alone: fruit bats practice social distancing when faced with an immunological challenge

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2021.

Amichai, Eran, and Yossi Yovel.

Echolocating bats rely on an innate speed-of-sound reference

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021.

Geva-Sagiv, M., Las, L., Yovel, Y., & Ulanovsky, N.

Spatial cognition in bats and rats: from sensory acquisition to multiscale maps and navigation.

Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2015

Decoding the Functions of Long Non-coding RNA

Igor Ulitsky, PhD, Weizmann Institute of Science

Igor Ulitsky outlines his investigation of the biology of a subtype of genetic material—long non-coding RNA (lncRNA)—an enigmatic class of RNA molecules. Similar to other classes of RNA molecules, lncRNAs are transcribed from DNA and have a single-strand structure; however, lncRNAs do not encode proteins. Even though non-coding regions of the genome comprise over 99% of our genetic material, little is actually known about how these regions function.

Ulitsky’s work has shown dynamic expression patterns across tissues and developmental stages, which appear to utilize diverse mechanisms of action that depend on their sub-cellular positions. These discoveries have unlocked the potential of using lncRNAs as both therapeutic agents and targets with promising leads for the treatment of diseases such as cancer, brain injury, and epilepsy.

Further Readings


H. Hezroni, D. Koppstein, M.G. Schwartz, A. Avrutin, D.P. Bartel, I. Ulitsky.

Principles of Long Noncoding RNA Evolution Derived from Direct Comparison of Transcriptomes in 17 Species

Cell Reports, 2015

R.B. Perry, H. Hezroni, M.J. Goldrich, I. Ulitsky.

Regulation of Neuroregeneration by Long Noncoding RNAs

Molecular Cell, 2018

A. Rom, L. Melamed, N. Gil, M. Goldrich, R. Kadir, M. Golan, I. Biton, R. Ben-Tov Perry, I. Ulitsky.

Regulation of CHD2 expression by the Chaserr long noncoding RNA is essential for viability

Nature Communications, 2019

Chemistry and Physical Sciences & Engineering of Tomorrow


Emmanuel Levy, PhD
Weizmann Institute of Science

Ido Kaminer, PhD
Israel Institute of Technology

Playing LEGO with Proteins: Principles of Protein Assembly in Cells

Emmanuel Levy, PhD, Weizmann Institute of Science 

In this presentation, Emmanuel Levy describes how defects in protein self-organization can lead to disease, and how protein self-organization can be exploited to create novel biomaterials. Levy has amassed a database of protein structural information that helps him to predict, browse, and curate the structural features—charged portions, hydrophobic and hydrophilic pockets, and point mutations—within a protein that govern the formation of quaternary structures. By combining this computational approach with experimental data Levy is able to uncover new mechanisms by which proteins operate within cells.

Further Readings


H. Garcia-Seisdedos, C. Empereur-Mot, N. Elad, E.D. Levy.

Proteins Evolve on the Edge of Supramolecular Self-assembly

Nature, 2017

M. Meurer, Y. Duan, E. Sass, I. Kats, K. Herbst, B.C. Buchmuller, V. Dederer, F. Huber, D. Kirrmaier, M. Stefl, K. Van Laer, T.P. Dick, M.K. Lemberg, A. Khmelinskii, E.D. Levy, M. Knop.

Genome-wide C-SWAT Library for High-throughput Yeast Genome Tagging

Nature Methods, 2018

H. Garcia-Seisdedos, J.A. Villegas, E.D. Levy.

Infinite Assembly of Folded Proteins in Evolution, Disease, and Engineering

Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2019

Shining Light on the Quantum World with Ultrafast Electron Microscopy

Ido Kaminer, PhD, Israel Institute of Technology

Ido Kaminer discusses his research on light-matter interaction that spans a wide spectrum from fundamental physics to particle applications. Part of his presentation addressed the long-standing question in quantum theory over the predictability of motions quantum particles. He also demonstrated the first example of using free electrons to probe the motion of photons inside materials. Finally, he talked about the potential applications of tunable X-rays generated from the compact equipment in his lab, for biomedical imaging and other applications.

Further Readings


R. Dahan, S. Nehemia, M. Shentcis, et al., I. Kaminer.

Resonant Phase-matching Between a Light Wave and a Free Electron Wavefunction

Nature Physics, 2020

K. Wang, R. Dahan, M. Shentcis, Y. Kauffmann, A.B. Hayun, O. Reinhardt, S. Tsesses, I. Kaminer.

Coherent Interaction between Free Electrons and a Photonic Cavity

Nature, 2020

Y. Kurman, N. Rivera, T. Christensen, S. Tsesses, M. Orenstein, M. Soljačić, J.D. Joannopoulos, I. Kaminer.

Control of Semiconductor Emitter Frequency by Increasing Polariton Momenta

Nature Photonics, 2018