Tenafly science stars intern at Weizmann

Tenafly science stars intern at Weizmann

Only 19 American students were chosen to receive summer internships at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel through the 45th annual Dr. Bessie Lawrence International Summer Science Institute.

Two of them are from Tenafly, and recently returned home with an impressive item to add to their résumés.

Both Danielle Kong and Dalia Walzer graduated in June 2013 from Bergen County Academies and spent July living and working with world-renowned scientists and graduate students on the campus of Weizmann, one of the world’s foremost centers of scientific research and graduate study. As part of ISSI, they also had an opportunity to tour Israel with their group of about 80 interns from around the world.

Danielle Kong of Tenafly enjoyed exploring Israel during her stay at Weizmann.

“I hoped that the program would let me combine my interests in pursuing scientific research and exploring new cultures through travel,” said Danielle, who is not Jewish. “I have never been to Israel and I heard Weizmann had cutting-edge research.”

ISSI participants select a subject area in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, or computer sciences. Senior Weizmann Institute scientists give supplemental lectures, and participants are invited to join departmental talks and visit the Rehovot campus’ state-of-the-art science facilities.

Danielle’s project was carried out in the lab of Karina Yaniv, who researches the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the formation of embryonic blood and lymphatic vessels in vertebrates.

Under doctoral student Moshe Grunspan, she was involved in a study of angiogenesis – the development of new blood vessels – and low-density lipoproteins, which help regulate cholesterol and are involved in the onset of many cardiovascular diseases.

“But their mechanisms of action are not understood,” Danielle said. “My mentor wanted to better understand them by looking at the interaction between low-density lipoprotein and the epithelial cells that line blood vessels. A main focus of our work was determining the receptors on the cells that the low-density lipoprotein binds to.”

She was delighted to find that Yaniv’s lab works not with rodent embryos but with zebra-fish embryos. “I never worked with them before. That was pretty cool.”

Dalia Walzer’s adventure included trips to the Negev and Judean deserts.

During her senior year in high school, she had worked at the Center for Craniofacial Regeneration at Columbia University Medical Center, assisting with research pertaining to stem cells and tissue regeneration. At Weizmann, she learned about advanced scientific instruments such as a spinning disk confocal microscope used to take images of the fish.

This fall, she will begin at Tufts University near Boston. But she plans to stay in touch with her ISSI roommates, who live in Singapore, Israel, and Germany. “It was a nice bonding experience with people from all over the world, connected by our love of science,” she said.

Dalia, who turned 18 just after the program ended, chose to join a research team in the medical science and technology track. At Bergen County Academies, she had done independent research in the cell biology lab and, like Danielle, had worked at a lab at Columbia Medical School. She expects to major in biology or bioengineering at MIT.

“Weizmann affirmed my love of the lab, though my research project was a little on the biochemical side,” said Dalia, whose mentor was a graduate student named Mohammed Ali.

“I was looking at the molecule ceramide in the cell membrane, and its role in activating the immune response. We tried to make the cells produce more ceramide, but it didn’t pan out. However, on the way we uncovered more about the mechanism of the protein responsible for producing ceramide.”

Dalia, whose family attends Shabbat services at Kehilat Kesher in Englewood, had been to Israel several times before. She has a cousin who spent time at Weizmann and recommended it highly.

“ISSI is a program where you get to see all the different sides of Israel and meet so many different people,” Dalia said. Her roommates came from Australia, Catalonia and the United Kingdom, and none are Jewish. The entire group went on guided trips every weekend, and the program is conducted in English.

“My favorite trip was our excursion to the Negev and Judean deserts for four days of intense hiking and sleeping under the stars,” she said. “We all learned a lot about the geography and terrain and also about our peers.”

Danielle agreed that the desert trip was special. “The landscape is absolutely stunning. It’s an environment I have never been in,” she said.

The participants also toured Jerusalem, the Galilee, Tel Aviv, and Eilat. “It was a nice taste of Israel,” said Danielle. “I wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course we hear about conflicts in this region of the world, but visiting Israel put those conceptions in a different context and I was able to see a different view.

“I was impressed by the diversity of the landscape and the cultures existing in the country. It provided me with a chance to learn about different cultures and beliefs. It is a beautiful country.”

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