Bessie Lawrence Program

Pueblo West High School valedictorian Eric Sun – now starting his freshman year at Harvard – got a head start on learning this summer as one of 20 teens hand-plucked from the U.S. for a month-long scientific research experience in Rehovot, Israel.

Sun said the opportunity and all he gained from it was amazing and eye opening.

“Getting a month of research experience in a field that I was not very familiar with was definitely a great way to expand my horizons,” he said. “The program was a great gateway into feeling out what a college or scientific experience may be like.”

Sun was selected to participate in the Weizmann Institute’s annual Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute (ISSI). The program accepts just one in four applicants and provides a full scholarship to all participants. It gives students the opportunity to conduct research with world-renowned scientists in biology, chemistry, mathematics and computer science. Students from throughout the world come to the ISSI each summer to work together, with about 80 students there this summer.

Sun worked on a project with neural networks, a popular field of artificial intelligence research. He helped investigate similarities in visual perception between computer vision and human vision.

“This entailed comparing reactions to optical illusions, artistic pieces and other visual phenomena. Our results were very exciting, and I hope to expand on this work throughout college and beyond,” Sun said.

On weekdays, the students at ISSI worked in a research lab, and then in the evenings they spent time in places like Rehovot and Tel Aviv.

They heard many guest speakers and attended workshops during lunch.

“On weekends, we undertook the cultural component to the program, which included trips to and tours of Galilee, Jerusalem and other places,” Sun said.

“Toward the end, we presented our research findings to our peers and then embarked on a weeklong desert hiking expedition in the Judean and Negev Deserts.”

The Weizmann Institute of Science is one of the world’s leading scientific research institutions, with nearly 4,000 researchers making global impacts in areas ranging from health and medicine to alternative energy to space exploration.

Last year, the Weizmann Institute was ranked 10th out of 750 research institutions worldwide by the Centre for Science and Technology Sciences Leiden Ranking.

Sun, who wants to become a research scientist in the future, said his experience at the Institute was especially important because it provided him a sneak peek as to what life as a scientist is truly like.

“I was primarily interested in the research component of the program at first, but then the opportunity to travel to a different country and meet people from many different cultures was also very attractive,” Sun said.