Soviet Scientists Make Their Mark


Earlier this decade, when waves of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of them skilled professionals, began flooding Israel, the Weizmann Institute quickly tapped into this gold mine of talent. It now employs 60 recent arrivals, including seven professors.

The new arrivals have made their mark in a wide variety of areas. For instance, Prof. Victor Katsnelson has solved several major problems in the mathematical field known as approximation theory; Prof. Mark Safro has determined the three-dimensional structure of an enzyme that plays a crucial role in protein biosynthesis; Prof. Michael Solomyak has made a significant contribution to the spectral theory of differential operators, a branch of mathematics closely related to physics; and Prof. Vladimir Usov has provided valuable insights into the origin of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays.

In some cases, joining the Institute has been a family affair. Prominent physicist Prof. Alexander Finkelstein, who has made important contributions to the physics of submicron systems, is now a member of the Condensed Matter Physics Department, where his eldest son Gleb is studying for his Ph.D. And Dr. Gregory Falkovich, from the Nuclear Physics Institute in Novosibirsk, has been a member of the Physics of Complex Systems Department since 1990, while his wife Alla graduated from the Feinberg Graduate School in 1993 and now works as a biochemist in a pharmaceutical company.

"We were extremely fortunate to wind up here, because the Institute made it possible for us to concentrate purely on science and not worry about the kinds of problems new immigrants ordinarily face," Falkovich said.

The Institute has also been instrumental in facilitating the absorption of immigrant scientists elsewhere in Israel. Several dozen recently arrived Soviet mathematicians have passed a course given by the Institute's Youth Activities Section, in which they were trained to teach their subject in Israeli schools. The section has also set up Russian language computer courses for teenage immigrants.

Some 80 percent of the scientists at the Kiryat Weizmann Incubator for Technological Entrepreneurship, adjacent to the Weizmann Institute and established with its help, are new immigrants. Some of them have already developed prizewinning products and processes, including brothers Drs. Roman and Simon Feldberg, who won an Industry and Trade Ministry Prize for designing a device to detect bacteria in pasteurized milk, and Dr. Klara Vinokur, who received the 1995 Excellence Award given to an outstanding Incubator project, for producing improved liquid crystals.

"Weizmann has been contributing to the vital process of absorbing immigrants while simultaneously enriching its own human resources," said Prof. Ruth Arnon, the Institute's Vice President of Institute Scientific Relations. "Israel, the Institute and the immigrants themselves have all come out ahead."