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Dr. Chaim Weizmann: Scientist and Statesman

For the man, and the institute he founded, science and international dialog have gone hand-in-hand

Dr. Chaim Weizmann was born in Russia, studied in Germany and Switzerland, lived and worked for years in Manchester, England, and finally moved to Rehovot, Israel.

While in Manchester, at the request of David Lloyd George, Weizmann speeded up the development of a method he had been working of for producing acetone, which was needed to produce gunpowder. Weizmann was perfecting a fermentation process that used a bacterium he had discovered, Clostridium acetobutylicum (also known as the Weizmann organism). With this process, the British were able to obtain large quantities of acetone from a variety of starches, particularly from corn. This process helped the British win WW; and it helped Weizmann make contacts with the politicians and influencers who would later lend support to the Jewish state.

The bacterium came with Weizmann when he moved to Rehovot. He and the small band of scientists who joined the Daniel Sieff Research Institute he established among the sand dunes began a long tradition of international collaboration – with the nearby universities in Cairo and Beirut, as well as with European and American researchers.

Weizmann believed that scientific research and development would be central to building the Jewish state, and he also believed they would be the cornerstone of building good relations with its neighbors. As a statesman, he strove to create peaceful coexistence, meeting with Emir Faisal, leader of the Arab national movement, and signing a cooperation agreement with him in 1919.

Weizmann served as the first president of the Daniel Sieff Research Institute, which was renamed the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1949, on his 75th birthday, and as the first president of the State of Israel. The Institute that bears his name – today home to over 350 basic research groups – continues the tradition of building dialog through science. Every day its scientists work side by side with researchers from China to California, and they are striving every day to benefit all of humanity with their research.

Today, Weizmann’s bacterium is the subject of further international collaboration with the lab of Prof. Ed Bayer of the Weizmann Institute of Science. Bayer investigates the cellulosome, the bacterial machinery that enables Clostridium acetobutylicum and other bacteria to break down the tough cellulose in cell walls. Relying on Bayer’s research, his colleagues in Toulouse and Marseille gave this cellulosome a genetic overhaul, trying to convince the historic bug to generate acetone and butyl alcohol from paper waste rather than from maize, as in Dr. Weizmann’s work.

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Israel BDS – building dialogue through science – aims to promote the kind of international collaboration that can lead to true understanding between people. Israel BDS stands for the free and open exchange of ideas among scientists everywhere. By reporting on the benefits of Israeli-international scientific research and the web of connections that these scientists create around the world, Israel BDS takes a vibrant approach to highlighting the global necessity of continued international scientific collaboration.

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Dr. Chaim Weizmann

Dr. Chaim Weizmann