President Reuven Rivlin hosted a reception on Sunday in honor of the first three Israeli recipients of the Blavatnik Award for Exceptional Young Scientists and Engineers.
The award was established in collaboration with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities at the initiative of one of its members, Israel Prize and Nobel Prize laureate Professor Aaron Ciechanover, who is also a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences.
The inaugural laureates, all in their thirties, are: Dr. Oded Rechavi, for his work to uncover novel mechanisms of inheritance without changes to the DNA code, Prof. Anat Levin, Associate Professor at the Technion’s Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering, and Dr. Charles Diesendruck, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the Haifa Technion’s Schulich Faculty of Chemistry for work in the field of mechano-chemistry for contributions to the emerging field of computational photography.
Each of the recipients receives $100,000.
Academy President and Israel Prize laureate Prof. Nili Cohen, during her welcoming address and introduction to the Academy members, the Blavatnik Foundation, the jury who selected the honorees, Tel Aviv University president Joseph Klafter, the prize recipients and members of their families, noted that the prize is one of the most prestigious in its category.
Scientists have endless curiosity and creativity, and many hurdles to overcome she said.
Prizes often arrive late and are given as lifetime achievement awards. Encouraging young scientists she said, is an innovation.
She lauded Sir Leonard Blavatnik as a friend of science and a friend of the Academy, adding that it was symbolic to have the initial ceremony in the President’s Residence, because the country’s first president Chaim Weizmann was a renowned scientist, and those who succeeded him were either scientists or greatly interested in science and the humanities.
Cohen added that Rivlin’s own father, who was a presidential candidate, was a professor who translated the Koran from Arabic to Hebrew.
Defining the difference between politics and science, Rivlin said that “politics create problems and science solves problems.”
Referring to frequent talk of cooperation, Rivlin said that the establishment of the Blavatnik Award was a good sign of cooperation. He was hopeful that a way could be found for cooperation between all the peoples of the region and that “not too many Presidents after me will be able to celebrate the Blavatnik Prize for regional cooperation.”
Hinting to the foolhardiness of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, Rivlin said “cooperation is the name of the game – not boycotts.”
In his address, Blavatnik said that he was “happy to inaugurate this important philanthropic activity in my life and bring it to Israel.” He said that he likes to promote young scientists because they are creating the world of the future.
Ellis Rubinstein, New York Academy of Science president and CEO said that scientific cooperation went beyond the bounds of politics. Even during the Cold War, he recalled, there had been a scientific interaction between America and Russia, and today there is a scientific interaction between Muslim and non-Muslim countries.
As a Jew, he said he was thrilled to see the embodiment of what Blavatnik had created ten years ago and “was certain that the State of Israel could address great [scientific and technological] challenges... So many wealthy people like to hang around established scientists,” said Rubinstein, “But from the beginning, Blavatnik has been interested in encouraging young scientists.”
During the reception, each of the three laureates briefly described what their work.
Rechavi, underscoring that other molecules are inherited in addition to DNA, said that in the future doctors examining patients will have more to go on than DNA in order to make a diagnosis.
Levin is researching ways to change the design of optics as well as solve problems of measuring, focusing and light.
Diesendruck is researching the reaction of materials under chemical stress and what can be done to prevent them from breaking.
Knighted in 2017 at the Queens’ Birthday honors in recognition of his outstanding philanthropy, Sir Leonard Blavatnik, 60, is a British American businessman who was born in Odessa, Ukraine and raised in Moscow.
In 1978, at age 21, he, together with members of his family, emigrated to the US and became a US citizen in 1984.
He earned his master’s degree in computer science at Columbia University and his MBA at Harvard Business School, to which in 2013, he donated $50 million to sponsor life sciences entrepreneurship.
HE MADE his fortune in Russia’s aluminum industry and in a joint venture in the TNKBP oil company.
In 1986, he founded Access Industries, a New York-headquartered worldwide industrial conglomerate, which has significant holdings in natural resources such as oil and coal; chemicals, technology, plastics, media, telecommunications, e-commerce, fashion, entertainment, and real estate.
As of January this year, he is the richest man in England, with an estimated worth of $19 billion.
He has been a British citizen since 2010 but purchased his first British property in 2004 when he outbid Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich for a mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens for which he paid $100 million. Blavatnik spends part of his time there, part of his time in the New York apartment and part of the time in other properties that he owns in other parts of the globe.
The Blavatnik Family Foundation supports many cultural, educational, scientific and religious institutions and projects in the US, Britain and Israel.
Blavatnik sponsors the Colel Chabad food bank in Kiryat Malachi, which sends regular food parcels to 5,000 families in 25 Israeli towns and cities, in addition to which food parcels are sent to 30,000 families prior to Passover and Rosh Hashana. He has given $20 million to Tel Aviv University for scientific research and has provided scholarships for the 120 outstanding soldiers honored at local Independence Day celebrations. Blavatnik also has considerable business investments in Israel.