Anna Bershteyn, Cupertino, Wins Prestigious Hertz Fellowship

October 16, 2006

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- OCTOBER 16, 2006 At only 22 years old, Anna Bershteyn leads a very busy life. Bershteyn, who calls Cupertino, Calif., her hometown, has many roles future biologist and HIV vaccine researcher, social justice activist, volunteer and fundraiser for community causes, and drummer for a Senegalese music ensemble, to name a few. Though Bershteyn follows the beat of her own drum, there is no question that she also follows her heart, which led her to science in the first place.

I'm interested in how science can contribute to improving lives in the developing world, Bershteyn says. I believe that the best approaches to solving global problems are those inspired by the end user of the solution.

Bershteyn is studying approaches to vaccine design, and specifically HIV vaccines, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. She is one of 15 graduate students selected from more than 670 to receive a full five-year graduate fellowship from the prestigious Fannie and John Hertz Foundation to support this important and innovative research.

Of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, Hertz Fellows receive up to $240,000 each in support to pursue their own scientific interests with the best academicians at top research universities in the United States. This no-strings-attached support gives Hertz Fellows financial independence from the constraints many graduate students face of having to choose a university or a research project because of its funding.

After a competitive application process, Hertz Fellows are chosen for their creativity and leadership as well as for their achievements in science, says John Holzrichter, PhD, Hertz Foundation president. These young people represent the future of science in America, and the results of their research will make a significant contribution to the ongoing spirit of innovation in this country.

Bershteyn is interested in developing smart vaccines using materials that mimic physical properties of pathogens. These biomimetic constructs would be designed to set off the alarms of the immune system without actually causing disease. Bershteyn is applying these concepts to the design of an HIV vaccine.

Bershteyn's HIV work does not end in the laboratory. She is involved in social justice organizations that are designed to raise awareness and funds for HIV treatment in African countries hit hard by the AIDS epidemic. Bershteyn helped spearhead a Boston-area fundraiser for World Aids Day, which takes place in early December, and supports organizations that promote the right to AIDS drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa and elsewhere.

Bershteyn is also a trained emergency medical technician, and volunteers for the MIT ambulance service. With friends, she founded a homeless shelter support group at MIT. Bershteyn is also a drummer for a Senegalese cultural ensemble called Rambax, and recently had the honor to actually perform in Senegal.

Her previous research includes studying nanoscale imaging of genetically engineered bone stem cells at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, designing tiny silicon machines at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and studying the properties of steel using thermo-mechanical simulation at a major steel factory in Argentina. Born in Kiev and raised in the U.S., Bershteyn was raised with a hard work ethic and drive to succeed. Bershteyn has aspirations to stay in academics, and would like to spend more time abroad to stay connected to the people who would most benefit from scientific advances.

Bershteyn is a 2002 graduate of Castilleja High School, Palo Alto, Calif. She holds a bachelor of science in materials science and engineering, with a minor in biomedical engineering, from MIT, where she graduated in 2005. Honors include the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Research Fellowship, and the Horace A. Lubin Award for her Bachelors thesis on hardenability of steel. Her father, Mike Bershteyn, is a computer scientist at Cadence Design Systems, San Jose, Calif., and her mother, Nelly Bershteyn, is a homemaker. Her older brother, Boris Bershteyn, is a clerk for Supreme Court Justice David Souter, in Washington, D.C.