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Bio student explores Israel’s cutting edge

Bio student explores Israel’s cutting edge

Ann Sarnak, back row, third from left, with the other members of the American delegation at the International Summer Science Institute at the Weizmann Institute.
Ann Sarnak, back row, third from left, with the other members of the American delegation at the International Summer Science Institute at the Weizmann Institute.

For budding scientist Ann Sarnak, her summer spent at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot not only widened her science research scope, but her perspectives on Israel as well.

Sarnak was one of 19 American students to participate in the four-week Dr. Bessie Lawrence International Summer Science Institute.

The 2013 Princeton High School graduate gained research experience, interacted with people from around the globe, and toured the country from north to south.

A member of The Jewish Center of Princeton, Sarnak welcomed the opportunity to pursue research and visit her grandparents, who live in Herzliya.

“I’m so happy that I decided to do it, and I feel very honored to have been selected,” said Sarnak.

She researched neural mechanisms of learning in a small lab group under the guidance of mentor Jennifer Resnik, an Israeli PhD candidate.

Sarnak described the Rehovot campus as “a place that really encapsulates the diversity of the country in a cool way,” with young and old researchers from around the world engaged in study.

“My group stressed techniques and protocol in the lab,” said Sarnak. “I felt like our mentor was really great in explaining everything — she was always willing to engage with us about the theory behind what she was doing.” Sarnak was also impressed by the cutting-edge technology at the Weizmann Institute, including a specialized Functional MRI machine that measures blood flow in the brain and determines which structures of the brain are activated when given a certain task.

Sarnak was particularly enthusiastic about working in and touring Israel with the 79 other Jewish and non-Jewish institute students from around the globe. “There was so much we were able to communicate that wouldn’t have seemed accessible when you think about how different our cultures and backgrounds are.”

And while much of her time was spent in the lab, a significant portion was spent exploring such places as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat, the Galilee, and the Judean and Negev deserts. Tour guides educated the students about the biblical and historical significance of the various sites.

During the last week of the program, Sarnak spent each day hiking through thousands of years of history and archaeology, first in the Judean desert, and then in the Negev, even spending one night in a Bedouin tent.

Her last two nights were at a field school in the Negev, where she learned about Israel’s ecosystem and wildlife.

“It was so amazing — it was a fantastic excursion, and I felt very changed once I arrived home,” she said.

This fall, Sarnak will attend Yale University, where she plans to study molecular and cellular biology with a possible focus in neuroscience.

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