Weizmann Institute scientist becomes UNESCO laureate

Men won most of the Nobel Prizes in the 20th century; with new awards, outstanding women now have a chance to catch up.

March 7, 2011 02:03
2 minute read.
Dr. Hagar Gelbard-Sagiv

Dr. Hagar Gelbard-Sagiv 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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A young Israeli scientist from the Weizmann Institute of Science who is studying the neuronal basis of consciousness has become a fellow of the UNESCO L’Oreal Foundation in Paris, along with 14 other young women from around the world.

Dr. Hagar Gelbard-Sagiv, 32, who went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) with her husband and children a few months ago to continue her research, hopes that her work can shed some new light on the brain mechanisms that undely our conscious, vivid experience of the world.RELATED:
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She flew from Pasadena to Paris for the UNESCO-L’Oreal events last week, which were meant to promote the work of women scientists – young and veteran researchers.

The competition began last summer with candidate selections in each country. Here, the younger, promising scientists have competed for the past three years before a panel of veteran Israeli female scientists, which this year included Weizmann Institute Prof. Ada Yonath, who – representing the continent of Europe – herself received a UNESCO-L’Oreal international prize for veteran women scientists on the prize’s 10th anniversary not long before receiving the Nobel Prize for Chemistry on behalf of Israel.

In addition to Yonath, this year’s judges’ panel was comprised of Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities president Prof. Ruth Arnon; Ben- Gurion University president Prof. Rivka Carmi; Shaare Zedek Hospital geneticist Prof.

Ephrat Levy-Lahad; and Open University president Prof.

Hagit Messer-Yaron.

Last summer, Dr. Gali Golan of the Hebrew University, who has been working on enzymes in treating diabetes and cancer, won the Israel Prize along with Gelbard-Sagiv, and each received NIS 50,000 – but only the Weizmann Institute’s young scientist was sent on to the international competition, where Gelbard-Sagiv was selected and won an additional $40,000.

Gelbard-Sagiv first studied at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and then proceeded to Weizmann for a combination of research in physics and biology.

In 2005, another young Israeli researcher, Dr. Victoria Yavelsky of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, received the Israeli award and international award as well. Yavelsky, who studied microbiology and immunology, earned the prizes for her work on the diagnosis and early treatment of ovarian cancer.

Since the UNESCO-L’Oreal Foundation international prize was launched 13 years ago, there have been 1,086 women, including 1,019 young scientists, competing at the local and international levels.

Some of these were from countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel.

Science and Technology Minister Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz said that Gelbard- Sagiv’s achievement in Paris was very impressive and unusual, and that she works in one of the world’s leading scientific fields – brain research.

L’Oreal Israel director-general Nava Ravid noted that the foundation regards women scientists as having great potential, and that in the 20th century, 95 percent of Nobel Prize laureates were male. This is the time, she said, to give women more opportunity to excel.

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