Dr. Ulyana Shimanovich Receives the 11th Annual Award

Dr. Ulyana Shimanovich
Dr. Ulyana Shimanovich

On March 21, the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Dr. Ulyana Shimanovich received the 11th Annual Gruber Award for Scientific Excellence. Established by philanthropist Patricia Gruber and her late husband Peter Gruber through their Gruber Foundation, the prestigious award provides valuable affirmation and support for talented young scientists just beginning their careers.

Patricia’s forward-looking approach to improving the human condition is both principled and pragmatic: she funds the fellowships, scholarships, awards, and other initiatives that actually help people advance.

“We like to invest in individuals – a person with an excellent brain and tremendous motivation,” Patricia says about the couple’s goal in establishing the award. “We thought: ‘Let’s empower all those bright lights, including women,’ and in that way we are investing in the future of science.”

One would be hard pressed to find a brighter light than Dr. Shimanovich, whose “tremendous motivation” can be seen in the fact that she already holds several joint patents for innovations in nanoscience and nanomedicine. Originally from Uzbekistan, she received her BSc, MSc, and PhD at Bar-Ilan University and conducted her postdoctoral work at Cambridge University – after which, in 2016, she was recruited to campus as part of the Institute’s efforts to expand its research in nanobiology and advanced and intelligent materials. 

“This award is a vehicle for identifying young superstars in science. Through the funds offered by the prize, it helps bring their research to a new level.”
– Patricia Gruber

Dr. Shimanovich is harnessing the healing power of nature on the tiniest scale: she studies the ultrafine fibers (fibrils) spun by silkworms and spiders, as well as those produced by amyloids – the proteins that form the harmful clusters seen in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Using proteins from the silk fibers, she is able to convert amyloids into functional biomaterials. The implications of her research are tremendous; just some potential applications include designing new nanoscale therapeutic agents (e.g., a way to deliver time-release medications) or nanofibrils with antibacterial properties to resist infection. Instead of harmful chemical medications, proteins from the silk fibers may be used to heal cells, such as those ravaged by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Like all recipients of the Gruber Award for Scientific Excellence, Dr. Shimanovich was selected by senior faculty and leadership at the Weizmann Institute. She follows in the footsteps of 10 stellar previous recipients, all of whom have been able to use the Gruber Foundation’s generous support to, as Patricia says, “bring their research to a new level.” They are:

  • Ruth Scherz-Shouval, Department of Biological Chemistry, 2016
  • Yifat Merbl, Department of Immunology, 2015
  • Michal Rivlin, Department of Neurobiology, 2014
  • Yardena Samuels, Department of Molecular Cell Biology, 2013
  • Tali Kimchi, Department of Neurobiology, 2012
  • Zohar Komargodski, Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics, 2011
  • David Margulies, Department of Organic Chemistry, 2010
  • Gilad Perez, Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics, 2009
  • Avishay Gal-Yam, Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics, 2008
  • Elad Schneidman, Department of Neurobiology, 2007

 

It is notable that, with Dr. Shimanovich, more than half of the recipients are women. While the most promising young scientists, period, are chosen each year, the Weizmann Institute and the Gruber Foundation both take pride in their efforts to advance women in science.

For the seventh consecutive year, the award ceremony was held in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, where the Grubers long made their home; Dr. Shimanovich participated via live video feed from the Weizmann campus in Rehovot, along with Prof. Israel Bar-Joseph, Vice President for Resource Development and Public Affairs, and Kelly Avidan, Director of Resource Development. On site in St. Thomas, Marshall S. Levin, CEO of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Patricia Gruber were among the ceremonial speakers.

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Patricia Gruber

The support provided by the Gruber Award for Scientific Excellence is generous and meaningful. Each award is for a period of three years, meaning there are three recipients at any given time. Awardees use the funds for research and travel, as well as to support postdoctoral fellows and PhD students in their labs. But the award matters beyond the financial support. As 2015 recipient Dr. Yifat Merbl said, “The award is a vote of confidence in my research at a time when I am establishing my lab – a very important moment in a scientist’s career.”

Raising up young people was important to Peter Gruber; besides scientific research, the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation supports human rights efforts, rule of law, women’s rights, and more. In keeping with these goals, it also funds a number of schools on St. Thomas, including the Peter Gruber International Academy (PGIA) at the Virgin Islands Montessori School. The Grubers established the Gruber Award for Scientific Excellence to encourage the outstanding scientists at the Weizmann Institute.   

The couple brought these institutions together, linking their love of educational advancement and science by connecting PGIA high-schoolers and Weizmann. Every April, PGIA students attend the award ceremony on St. Thomas; many have gone on Gruber-sponsored trips to Israel, where they visit the campus and talk to scientists in person. It’s made a difference: many PGIA students have now chosen to pursue advanced education and careers in science as a result. And just maybe, several years down the road, one of those young people will be the next recipient of the Gruber Award for Scientific Excellence at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Along with her late husband, Peter, Patricia Gruber established the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation. The foundation supports scientific research and human rights efforts, providing fellowships and scholarships. Her numerous accolades include an honorary doctorate from the Weizmann Institute of Science. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science and a member of the International Board.

The Weizmann Institute family cherishes Peter’s memory and his legacy of shared vision for the benefit of all humanity.