But knowledge of science and technology won’t be enough to take advantage of these new opportunities – you also need “soft skills” such as the ability to work in a team, so-called emotional intelligence, if you’re to be successful.
“It’s the whole package that’s important,” says the Head of World ORT’s Education Department, Daniel Tysman. “We’re not just interested in developing good scientists and engineers; we help our students to learn how to communicate and work together.”
For example, World ORT has instituted a new prize for excellence in science communication through its operational arm in Israel, Kadima Mada.
Dr Ido Horresh, Manager of Kadima Mada’s You-niversity Centres for Science and Technology, has joined the panel of judges for the annual competition run by the Weizmann Institute of Science for outstanding high school science students.
The students have spent two years pursuing an independent scientific research project, most of them under the supervision of a Weizmann doctoral student. Of the 12 finalists, the three who are considered to have communication skills to match their exceptional research skills are offered a $2,000 prize in return for lecturing on their project to students at World ORT-affiliated schools in Israel.
The winner of the Weizmann competition, Elizabeth Vaisbourd, is among the first batch of the World ORT scholarship recipients. Her prize-winning project was actually part of doctoral research being conducted by Amir Apelbaum and examined the role of one protein involved in the mechanism of apoptosis, or programmed cell death.
“Scientists have researched the molecular mechanism of anti-proliferation activity and they’re still not sure how it works,” she said. “Our research suggests that the particular molecule we were examining is irrelevant to the process, unlike previously thought, but that another molecule may be involved.”
Weizmann is sending Elizabeth to Sweden to attend the Nobel Prize-giving ceremony and participate in the Young Scientists seminar there; before that, she plans participate in a week-long assembly of ISRAMUN Model UN Conference before being drafted into the Israeli army. But the 17-year-old from Rishon LeZion still has time to feel a little nervous about doing her lecture tour for World ORT.
“But I’m also excited in a good way,” she added. “I’ll be happy to answer their questions if I can and maybe they’ll walk out of these lectures with a different perspective – that’s a big honour to be in a position to have a dialogue about science which may change the way they think about these things. I was inspired to study science by a teacher who told us about her research in to cells and microbes; if I hadn’t been exposed to that I wouldn’t be where I am today. I think many kids, if they get a sense of how science is studied at a higher level, will be inspired in the same way.”
Elizabeth is acutely aware of the regional disparities in education provision and resourcing within Israel and appreciates that growing up in the central town of Rishon LeZion gives her advantages that many of her peers in the periphery do not enjoy – and she is keen to do her bit to redress the balance.
“Of course the scholarship is nice but this opportunity to inspire young students is priceless – I’d have done it even without the money,” she said.
The other scholarship recipients are Modi’in teenager Noam Ottolenghi, who developed a computational model to establish the presence of the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” which provides mass, and a dynamic duo from kibbutz Ma’ayan Tzvi, near Zichron Ya’akov, Omer Grank and Idan Sharon, who developed an automatic buoyancy control system for scuba divers.
Kadima Mada’s Dr Horresh said the scholarship recipients would counteract the bad PR which blinds the general public to the reality of science.
“When Elizabeth and the others talk to kids their own age in our affiliated schools I’m certain that they will look at them as role models – they speak their language,” he said. “There are some scientists who are so brilliant but they can hardly string together a sentence so non-scientific audiences can’t understand what’s so fantastic about what they do.”
As Mr Tysman said, all the Weizmann finalists displayed exceptional scientific knowledge and abilities, but World ORT wanted “to recognise those who also have the ability to explain what they’ve done in a way that’s easily accessible to a lay audience. It not only demonstrates the importance of communication skills, it also enhances their ability to serve as role models of achievement and success in the sciences to our students.”