Upper West Side Native Wins Prestigious Hertz Fellowship

October 12, 2006

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- OCTOBER 12, 2006 Manhattan native Michael Schnall-Levin wants to make peoples lives better through science. Practical by nature, its no wonder Schnall-Levin is drawn to mathematics, and ultimately to computational biology for its direct approach to problem solving.

Im excited by the real-life applications that result from research in computational biology, says Schnall-Levin. Through computational biology, we could look at the functionality of different genes, for example, to learn how different diseases form. From there, we could find better treatments of serious conditions. Schnall-Levin adds that computational biology offers broad mathematical techniques that can be used to research, and possibly cure, many diseases that affect humankind today.

Schnall-Levin, 23, is one of 15 graduate students selected from more than 670 to receive a full five-year fellowship from the prestigious Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. Schnall-Levin will use his Hertz Fellowship to study computational biology in the math department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

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.

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.

The Hertz Fellowship gives me the freedom to take risks and pursue the kind of research I want to, Schnall-Levin says, adding that one day he hopes to become a professor and a leader in scientific projects outside of academia. Schnall-Levin has liked science from an early age, and says he had tremendous support from his parents and teachers throughout his schooling.

Schnall-Levins past research includes working in the biophysics laboratory at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, to build a device that used genetic machinery from a cell to control how much of a specific protein is being made. His work was part of a larger effort to use biological material to build simple computing devices.

Schnall-Levin also is trained in the Israeli self-defense discipline called Krav Maga, which he enjoys because, he says, it is practical and to the point, which suits him to a tee.

Schnall-Levin is 2001 graduate of Stuyvesant High School, New York City, where he was a member of the track and football teams, and the 2001 U.S. Physics Team. He holds a bachelor of arts in math and physics from Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., where he graduated summa cum laude in 2005. Schnall-Levin was National Merit Scholar, a Robert C. Byrd Scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He received the John Harvard Scholarship from 2002 through 2004, and also won the Harvard College Detur Prize in 2002. His mother, Fran Schnall, teaches English as a second language in New York City. Schnall-Levins father, Fred Levin, is a hedge fund manager for Graham Capital in Stamford, Conn., and his step-mother, Leslie Dumont, is a charity fundraiser. Schnall-Levins older sister, Rebecca, works as a midwife in San Francisco, and his younger brother Adam is in high school.