Prof. Daniel Zajfman

President Weizmann Institute of Science

Born in Belgium, in 1959, Prof. Daniel Zajfman moved to Israel in 1979. He received a BSc (1983) and a PhD in atomic physics (1989) from the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. After working as a consultant for Elscint, in Haifa, Prof. Zajfman spent two years at the Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago, as a postdoctoral fellow. He returned to Israel in 1991 and joined the staff of the Weizmann Institute's Department of Particle Physics (now the Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics)  where he is the incumbent of the Simon Weinstock Professorial Chair of Astrophysics. 2003. Since 2001, he has been an external member of the Max Planck Institute of Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, and in 2005, he was appointed Director in that institute. In November 2006, Prof. Zajfman was elected the tenth President of the Weizmann Institute of Science by the Institute's Board of Governors. He assumed this position on December 1, 2006, becoming, at the age of 47, the youngest president the Institute ever had.
Prof. Zajfman's research interests focus on atomic and molecular physics, with a strong emphasis on molecular breakup via electron or photon interactions. These issues are most relevant not only to the field of molecular dynamics, but also to the understanding of laboratory and astrophysical plasmas. In essence, Prof. Zajfman wishes to determine how, under harsh conditions, molecules are formed in diffuse and dense interstellar clouds. Prof. Zajfman's experiments involve the use of storage rings, advanced devices in which molecular ions move through a circular vacuum at speeds of approximately 10,000 kilometers per second. The "hot" ions that are produced are then cooled to interstellar temperatures by trapping them in the storage ring. In recent years, Prof. Zajfman developed an improved version of the so-called "ion trap" for the study of molecular reactions, thus enabling him to create a tabletop version of the huge and very expensive storage rings. This, coupled with a new technique he developed for long-term ion storage, enables his team to reproduce, in the laboratory, some of the conditions (e.g., a low-temperature and a low-density environment) existing in interstellar space.
Prof. Zajfman also seeks to understand the astrophysical conditions found in a galaxy's star-forming regions or supernova remnants. Stars are born when an interstellar cloud, made up of atoms and molecules, collapses on itself. Prof. Zajfman and his colleagues work to solve the riddle of star formation by recreating interstellar conditions in a laboratory environment. For years, scientists believed that molecular collisions occurring as interstellar clouds collapse cause the release of radiation energy, which cools the system down. Prof. Zajfman was among the scientists who proved that an important component of this radiating "coolant" was ordinary water. In other studies, Prof. Zajfman has developed new techniques for the direct, three-dimensional imaging of molecular breakup events, providing new insight into these basic chemical processes.
In addition to his research, Prof. Zajfman has invested much time and effort in community outreach, to the public in general and youth in particular. One of his goals is to broaden interest in and knowledge of the advances taking place on the scientific front. He has also taught various undergraduate and graduate physics courses, both at the Technion and Weizmann Institute.
As President of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Prof. Zajfman has given priority to sustaining the Institute's standards of excellence. He has led the establishment of several research schools, centers, and institutes. Under his direction, major funds have been invested in developing the Institute's infrastructure. These efforts include the construction of a new conference center, a technical services facility, a building to house biochemical research, and a cutting-edge preclinical facility.
Prof. Zajfman has also worked to advance collaboration between Institute scientists and researchers and academics in the social sciences and humanities.
Prof. Zajfman is married to Joelle, who has an MSc in physics and works as a sculptor, and is father to Eyal and Noga.