Sangeeta Ujjwal, 2017–2019
Host: Prof. Ehud Meron
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Banaras Hindu University, India
My name is Sangeeta Ujjwal. I am currently working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics at Banaras Hindu University, India. I received my PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India in 2016. Following this, I was a BCSC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research (BIDR), Ben-Gurion University, Israel from 2017–19. After coming back to India, I spent some time at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai as a Visiting Scientist and at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi as a Research Associate. I worked as a Dr. D. S. Kothari Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physics and Astrophysics, University of Delhi prior to joining my current position at BHU in 2020. My research area is in the field of nonlinear dynamics and pattern formation.
I joined the BIDR in January 2017 and was there for almost two years. My stay at the BIDR was very enjoyable. Scientifically also, it was a fruitful period in my career. We worked on some very interesting problems related to vegetation pattern formation that resulted in a couple of publications in reputable journals. I am very thankful to my mentor and host Prof. Ehud Meron who introduced me to this new area of vegetation dynamics and for being extremely supportive throughout my stay at the BIDR. The experience and training that I received in his group helped me a great deal in excelling in my future projects. I also feel that the exposure that I received at the BIDR while collaborating with different groups, attending conferences, workshops, field trips, etc. helped me to grow as a researcher and hence to attain my current position. Therefore, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude towards my host, the administrative staff, and the BCSC for supporting my stay at the BIDR, and I also look forward to visiting the institutes again in the future.
|Si-Chong Chen, 2016–2018|
Host: Prof. Itamar Giladi
Current Position: Research Professor, Wuhan Botanic Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences
My name is Si-Chong Chen, and I am an ecologist working on macroecological patterns in plant ecology, with a focus on seeds. Although I was born and grew up in the biggest metropolitan city in central China, I was fascinated by nature and desired to examine it closely. After my BSc study at Wuhan University, I moved to a remote area in southwestern China and studied tropical rainforests at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences. I received my PhD in 2016 from the University of New South Wales in Australia. In the summer of 2016, I arrived in the gorgeous Negev Desert and started my postdoctoral research with the prestigious BCSC Postdoctoral Fellowship. After I left BGU, I was appointed as a Research Fellow at the Millennium Seed Bank of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK. Recently, I made my journey back to my home city and became a Research Professor at the Wuhan Botanic Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Through these geographically diverse appointments and associated travels, I have continuously developed my interests and strengthened my career in macroecology and relevant disciplines. My two years in Israel is a memorable experience that I will treasure all my life. This experience not only gave me the precious opportunity to know this beautiful and culturally rich country, but it also led me to work with creative researchers and extended my research scope. This was a critical episode in my career development. I had a very kind supervisor, Dr. Itamar Giladi, and I made many lively, interesting friends in the desert. I miss them all, and I believe we may reunite after moments or lifetimes.
|Carlo C. Lazado, 2015–2018|
Host: Prof. Dina Zilberg
Current Position: Senior Scientist in Fish Health, Nofima, Norway
I am Carlo C. Lazado, and I specialize in fish health with a strong focus on the physiology and immunology of mucosal barriers. I obtained my PhD in Aquatic Biosciences from Nord University (Norway). I did my first postdoctoral training at the Technical University of Denmark and moved to Israel for my second postdoc upon receiving the prestigious Jacob Blaustein Postdoctoral Fellowship. At present, I am a Senior Scientist in Fish Health at Nofima, The Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research. My small research team of students and postdocs addresses fundamental questions about the structures, organization, and functions of fish mucosal immune systems and explores them in the context of aquaculture, especially regarding how biological factors, production systems, environmental parameters, and operational practices affect the first line of defense.
I first visited Israel in 2013, and I told myself I would be coming back, though I never thought it would be as a postdoc. My experience in the Negev opened my eyes to the opportunities and challenges of rearing fish in areas where resources are scarce. This has been instrumental in the development of my research career, especially in building a name in the field of mucosal health. When I was at BGU, I was supervised by Prof. Dina Zilberg and Prof. Inna Khozin-Goldberg—two exceptional women scientists.
Not many people can say they have lived and performed research in the tropics (I am originally from the Philippines), the Arctic (I did my PhD in northern Norway), and the desert. I can.
|Bhavana Gupta, 2015–2016|
Host: Prof. Iris Visoly-Fisher
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland
I am Dr. Bhavana Gupta, and I am a materials chemist interested in interdisciplinary subjects. I completed my PhD in the year 2012. During my PhD studies, I had the opportunity to work at the Kyushu Institute of Technology, Japan under a student cultural exchange program for seven months. After completing my PhD, I was selected for the prestigious Blaustein Postdoctoral Fellowship at Ben-Gurion University of Negev, Israel in the year 2015. Here, I was able to work on a sophisticated technique, namely, conduction and electrochemical atomic force microscopy. We succeeded in making a correlation between surface properties and photo-electrochemical water splitting efficiency on the surface of single crystal α-Fe2O3. This gave us insight into the mechanism of water oxidation on the surface of α-Fe2O3. After departing the BIDR, I had the chance to do research in my home country (India), France, and China. Currently I am an Assistant Professor (PD2PI Laureate, under an H2020 grant) at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Science. My primary research interest is to understand the mechanism of the hole scavenger photooxidation during photo-electrocatalysis with the help of a scanning electrochemical microscope. This will pave the way for developing tailormade semiconductor films that can be used for efficient water splitting.
During my slightly more than one-year stay in Israel, I received intensive training in working in a team, along with interpersonal and career development. Moreover, I was also able to learn the culture, enabling me to mix with local people and enjoy this time. My work in Israel not only allowed me to build my expertise in this field, but also helped me to improve and grow in terms of my academic writing, communication skills, and making inter-cultural friends, which has helped me in my current position and international travel and collaborations.
|Boris Rewald, 2009–2012|
Host: Prof. Jhonathan Ephrath
Current Position: Associate Professor, Department of Forest and Soil Sciences, Austrian University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria
I am a botanist studying plant ecophysiology, particularly resource uptake/use, plasticity of architecture, morphology and physiology under competition and stress, and plant and ecosystem carbon fluxes. Working in both agricultural and forest production systems, my studies focus on root systems, their traits, and symbionts. Currently, I hold a tenure track professorship (currently: Assoc. Professor) for Root Ecology at the Austrian University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU) in the Department of Forest and Soil Sciences. Initially, I built my career starting with a PhD thesis in the field of Plant Ecology at Göttingen University, Germany. It was during this time that I met BGU researcher Jonathan Ephrath during a COST action, resulting in two short but successful research stays at the French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands at Sde Boker before I took the chance to apply for a BCSC scholarship in the lab of Yoni Ephrath and Shimon Rachmilevitch. Coming from a tree and forest ecology-related field of science in a temperate climate, this first postdoctoral position in the highly productive environment of BGU's desert campus clearly positively influenced my career. Being mentored towards scientific rigor and academic independence, the postdoctoral fellowship enabled me to gather experience in both agricultural and ecology-related topics under the extreme environmental conditions of the desert. This is clearly a place where plants must rely on effective root systems to thrive! Given the high scientific output achieved during my stay, it felt easy to secure a second postdoctoral position at BOKU, where I have continued my career until today. As a scientist working on a very diverse set of scientific questions related to Functional Plant Ecology and Biogeochemistry, I was able to become Editor-in-Chief of the Functional Plant Ecology Section, in Frontiers in Plant Science. Living today in lovely Vienna, Austria with my Israeli wife and two kids, we still frequently remember Sde Boker and the great time our younger selves had there, working with friends in a scenic landscape towards a sustainable future.
|Agus Muñoz-Garcia, 2009–2012|
Host: Prof. Berry Pinshow
Current Position: Associate Professor, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University, USA
My name is Agus Muñoz-Garcia, and my field of study is Ecological and Evolutionary Physiology, or how organisms adjust their physiological phenotype in a given environmental context. After I got my B.Sc. in the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, I moved to Columbus, Ohio, where I earned my Ph.D. at The Ohio State University (OSU). Then, I was awarded the prestigious Jacob Blaustein Postdoctoral Fellowship and the VATAT Postdoctoral Fellowship. In Israel, I studied adaptations of desert bats and resource allocation in migratory birds. Currently, I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at OSU, where I am working on a multidisciplinary research project that links environmental conditions to the molecular determinants of cellular metabolism in different organs, which, in turn, produce different patterns of energy and resource allocation.
In the two and a half years that I spent in Israel, I learned, among other things, many methodological skills and how to mentor and coordinate graduate students, abilities that certainly helped me to get a position at OSU. I had a great supervisor, Prof. Berry Pinshow, and a great colleague, Dr. Carmi Korine; ten years later, our friendship remains intact, and we still do work together! Overall, my experience in the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research was invaluable and extremely satisfactory both at the professional and the personal level.
|Alexis Vossier, 2009–2011|
Host: Prof. Jeffrey Gordon
Current Position: Researcher, French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), France
I joined the BIDR as a postdoctoral fellow in 2009, for a two-year period until 2011. After a brief period of adaptation (I was used to remote environments, such as mountains, but not to deserts!), I rapidly began to enjoy the place, the friendly atmosphere, and my scientific activities together with Prof. Jeffrey Gordon and Prof. Eugene Katz. I spent a wonderful period in Sde Boker, and would never have imagined that it would be so difficult to leave this special place after two years there. I was hired as a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in 2013. Today, my research work mainly focuses on three topics: 1) how to better convert solar radiation into electricity; 2) how to use the sun as a way to run clean processes to synthesize high-value nanomaterials; and 3) how to better use solar energy to decarbonize industry and transportation. Happily, I still work in close collaboration with my former supervisors, who are now close colleagues. I maintain a very special relation with the BIDR, and still manage to go back to Sde Boker once in a while!
|Christopher Tracy, 2004–2005|
Host: Prof. Berry Pinshow
Current Position: Reserve Director, Philip L. Boyd Canyon Desert Research Center, University of California Natural Reserve System, USA
My current position is Reserve Director for the Philip L. Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center, one of the 41 reserves in the University of California Natural Reserve System. I spent two periods at BIDR, the first in 1991 for a special series of graduate short-courses in Desert Ecology just before I started as a master's degree student at University of Oklahoma in Zoology. I then did a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin Madison (Zoology), where I worked with Warren Porter, whom Berry Pinshow had worked with as a postdoc, and Bill Karasov, who had been an instructor in 1991. After two years of postdoctoral work in Darwin, Australia, I returned to BIDR in 2004-2005 as a postdoc with Berry Pinshow and Bill Karasov.
The times I spent at BIDR had a profound influence on my career. The series of short courses in 1991 introduced me to a cross-section of leading faculty in various subdisciplines in Ecology, who I later regularly met and talked with at national and international conferences. This was a big boost of confidence for a student just starting graduate school. Those courses led to offers to study with more than one of the instructors, and later, to the postdoc in 2004-2005 that was with two of those instructors. My time as a postdoc launched my career as a faculty member and ultimately as Director of the Deep Canyon Reserve. During that postdoc, I met colleagues I continue to work and teach with to this day. The time I spent at BIDR also made me realize how much I enjoy living and working in a remote, desert research facility, so when the position of Director at Deep Canyon opened, I knew it would be a great fit for me.