Interview: Sivan Refaely-Abramson – Mother, Major, Materials Science Student


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PhD student Sivan Rafaeli-Abramson
Sivan Refaely-Abramson is a PhD student in the lab of Prof. Leeor Kronik, Head of the Materials and Interfaces Department. She is 32 years old, married and mother of two. Refaely-Abramson is also a major in an army reserve operations unit.

Q: What does your research entail?

A: The field of our group’s research is the quantum calculation of chemical systems. More specifically, I deal with developing and applying efficient methods of calculating the electronic structure of organic materials, with an emphasis on materials that are used to make organic solar cells. Solar cells based on organic materials are expected to be inexpensive, easy to manufacture and flexible, allowing for a potentially large assortment of applications. Our calculations aid, for example, in predicting which organic materials will be better suited to particular solar devices and which will be less appropriate.

Q: How did you decide to become a scientist?

A: For as long as I can remember, the exact sciences were what interested me. A visit to the Weizmann Institute during high school led me to the book Conceptual Physics for Everyone by Paul G. Hewitt, and from there to an interest in quantum mechanics. This, in turn, led me to study for a BSc at the Hebrew University, with a double major in chemistry and physics. Then, as now, I was interested in the intersection between the theoretical understanding of particles in quantum mechanics and the ability to apply this understanding in the real world. That is how I got to Prof. Kronik’s lab, where the theory that comes from the world of physics and the fascinating applications in the world of chemistry are beautifully intertwined.   

Q: Who is your role model?

A: My father, who in his profession as a farmer used his great skills as an inventor and his passion for science. And he enjoyed every minute of it. From him, I learned that when choosing a profession, you have to follow your heart. Everything else will sort itself out.

Q: How do you cope as a woman and a mother in the academic world?

A: At this stage, I can only tell you about being a mother and working on my doctorate. It is an interesting mix of two very different worlds; each, alone, demands my full attention. This mix is a balancing act that requires precise time management; and it demands a lot of support, both at home and from my adviser. Fortunately, I am blessed with that support on both sides: My husband is a full partner in running the house and the family, alongside his own full-time career; my doctoral adviser views me as a senior researcher and has faith in my dedication to the research, so he completely lets me manage my own time. The flexibility he gives me means I don’t have to compromise – either on the research or on motherhood.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: I would like to continue the life of a researcher, and to be a part of the Israeli, scientific and academic world, but that is in the future. In the meantime, there are many fields of research I would like to learn more about.

Prof.  Leeor Kronik's research is supported by the Carolito Stiftung; the European Research Council; the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; the Philip M. Klutznick Fund for Research; and Antonio and Noga Villalon, Winnetka, IL.