Living, learning, researching in Israel

Living, learning, researching in Israel

23 YU undergraduate scientists work on high-level projects at Bar-Ilan

Summer Science Research Interns from Bergen County, left to right: Netanel Paley, Yoni Schwartz, Tamar Felman, and Chaya Apfel of Teaneck, and Ilana Karp of Fair Lawn.
Summer Science Research Interns from Bergen County, left to right: Netanel Paley, Yoni Schwartz, Tamar Felman, and Chaya Apfel of Teaneck, and Ilana Karp of Fair Lawn.

What are the long-term effects of “kangaroo care” (skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby) on levels of depression or anxiety in siblings of multiple births? When she interacts with her baby, how do a mother’s facial expressions affect their heart rates and oxytocin levels?

These were two of the scientific questions that Chaya Apfel of Teaneck explored during the Summer Science Research Internship Program, a joint initiative of Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Yeshiva University in New York.

Twenty-three undergraduate science majors from Yeshiva College (for men) and Stern College for Women were selected to participate in the internship program, now in its sixth year.

The students gained hands-on experience in Bar-Ilan’s research laboratories under the guidance of faculty members from the Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials, the Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, the Mina and Everard Goodman Life Sciences Department, and the departments of engineering, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and computer science.

As in the past, the seven-week internship program was overseen by biomedical engineer Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, associate professor in Bar-Ilan’s Interdisciplinary Brain Science Program. Dr. Zivotofsky earned a master’s in Jewish history at Yeshiva University before he moved to Israel in 2000.

“Our unique program gives 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 is like to live, learn, and research in Israel,” Dr. Zivotofsky said.

“In the labs, they become part of a team and contribute to the ongoing projects. Spending their summer with a like-minded group of peers fosters an unparalleled commitment to research, Israeli science, and religious Zionism.”

Based on the students’ interests and academic experience, Dr. Zivotofsky matched them with appropriate mentors and research assignments.

“I have learned some very practical techniques that are used in psychology research,” Ms. Apfel, a Stern senior, reported. “This includes how to use EEGs, heart monitors, and several different computer programs for coding videos, setting up different parts of experiments, and analyzing the data.”

She was assigned to professor Ruth Feldman’s developmental social neuroscience lab.

“What has been really fascinating is seeing the techniques and experiments that I have read about in my textbooks actually come to life,” Ms. Apfel said. “It was also interesting to see the very real, emotional side of experiments and research.

Yoni Schwartz at his internship laboratory.
Yoni Schwartz at his internship laboratory.

“When evaluating anxiety and depression forms, I had to inform my supervisor whenever a participant had a score that fell into the range of having one of the disorders. My supervisor, who took care to know each participant, would have to call up the participant (or his or her parent, depending on the age) to inform them of their score. My supervisor took care with each phone call that she made and I could tell that each abnormal score really affected her. I used to think research was very technical and emotionless, but I now see the humane, caring side of research.”

Ms. Apfel said she hopes to make aliyah some day. “Having this program in Israel is a tremendous opportunity as I get to see and experience the day-to-day and career life of Israelis,” she said.

Tamar Felman of Teaneck, also entering her senior year at Stern, was placed in professor Sharon Gannot’s electrical engineering lab. The lab researches speech and signal processing.

“I spent time studying how to record impulse responses in Bar-Ilan’s Acoustics Lab and learned how to simulate such an experiment virtually using a multipurpose software platform that can solve physics-based problems,” she said.

“Throughout my college career, I have been exploring different fields of engineering, trying to get a taste for what interests me most,” she added. “The Summer Research Internship Program … gave me the chance to expose myself to what engineering entails in a more hands-on way.

“Through working in the lab and visiting Israeli companies like Teva Pharmaceuticals and Israel Aerospace Industries, the program helped me become more familiar with some of the many engineering career options there are.”

During weekly field trips, participants also visited the government-sponsored Agriculture Research Organization (Volcani Center) and dug for a day at the Tel es-Safi/Gath archaeological site. In the evenings, they had the opportunity for Torah study at YU’s Jerusalem campus, where they were housed.

“One thing I enjoyed most about this program was that it took place in Israel,” Ms. Felman said. “Not only did I get a chance to further my academic studies and research experience, I got to do it all surrounded by my brothers and sisters in a land that I love.”

Other interns from Bergen County were Netanel Paley and Yoni Schwartz of Teaneck, who worked in the labs of nanotechnology professor Galit Shohat-Ophir and medical diagnostics professor Gad Miller, respectively; and Ilana Karp of Fair Lawn, who studied the protein structures and potassium channel of a toxin in the lab of chemistry professor Jordan Chill.

Ms. Karp, a Stern sophomore, said she found her work “fascinating, because we are not only able to identify tiny particles that are invisible to even most microscopes, but we are even able to distinguish between them despite the numerous numbers in a single protein. I have learned a lot of new laboratory techniques and have had exposure to science that I’ve never seen before.”

She added that her internship has helped her identify what areas of science she might like to pursue as a career.

“The YU-BIU program adds so much to the existing science and research education of our students, including the world-famous research base, the high-level mentorship and a strong peer group,” said Dr. Karen Bacon, dean of the undergraduate faculty of arts and sciences at Yeshiva University.

The BIU-YU Summer Science Research Internship Program is partially funded by the J. Samuel Harwit & Manya Harwit Aviv Charitable Trust of Los Angeles, as well as by Dr. Mordecai D. Katz, a YU graduate and chairman emeritus of the Bar-Ilan Global Board of Trustees, and his wife, Dr. Monique C. Katz.

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