The Executive Board of the Weizmann Institute of Science, headed by Shimshon Harel, announced they have elected Professor Alon Chen to be the 11th President of the Weizmann Institute of Science. The Board accepted the recommendation of the Presidential Search Committee, headed by the Chair of the International Board of the Institute, Professor Jehuda Reinharz. Out of several candidates presented to the search committee, its members unanimously voted to put forward Professor Chen’s name for the position.
Professor Chen will take office on 1 December, 2019, when the current president, Professor Daniel Zajfman, who took office in 2006, will complete his term.
Professor Chen is a neuroscientist and head of the Neurobiology Department at the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as a director at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany. In addition, he heads a joint Weizmann-Max Plank lab for experimental neuropsychiatry and behavioural neurogenetics, as well as being an adjunct professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University Faculty of Medicine in Munich.
Professor Chen was born in Israel (1970). He received a BSc in life sciences, magna cum laude, from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 1995, and a PhD through a direct track from the Weizmann Institute of Science in 2001, for which he received an award for excellence. In parallel, he attained an MBA from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. From 2001-2005, traveling on Rothschild and Fulbright scholarships, he conducted postdoctoral research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in San Diego, California. There he began to investigate processes in the brain that regulate mental stress and anxiety. He returned to the Weizmann Institute of Science in 2005 as a senior scientist in the Neurobiology Department. He was awarded an Alon Fellowship by the Israel Council for Higher Education – Israel’s highest award for returning scientists. In 2012, he became an associate professor and, in 2017, a full professor.
In 2013, Professor Chen was appointed a director in the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, and Head of the joint lab for experimental neuropsychiatry and behavioral neurogenetics.
In his research, Professor Chen focuses on the biological processes by which stress and anxiety develop in our bodies, as well as the mechanisms in the brain that are activated by these mental states and which are meant to regulate them. His research also questions how these response mechanisms are over- or under-activated in various psychiatric disorders. In the search for a basic understanding of how animals and humans respond to stress and anxiety, Professor Chen and his colleagues have uncovered genes, proteins and neural circuits that play crucial roles in these phenomena. They have also discovered epigenetic (i.e., controlling gene expression, but not in the genes themselves) mechanisms and information processing circuits in the brain that are tied to anxiety, depression, eating disorders and metabolic syndromes.
In his current positions as head of the Neurobiology Department of the Weizmann Institute of Science and director in the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Professor Chen has amassed a wealth of experience in management, especially in managing successful scientific research. This experience includes handling large budgets and obtaining resources; as well as working with scientific councils, executive boards, public authorities, scientific faculty and management, graduates, donors and stakeholders.
Professor Chen is able to describe complex scientific processes in language that all can understand. He is a manager who encourages good team spirit in his workplace, and is a natural leader who knows how to identify opportunities and translate difficult challenges into novel solutions. He also invests his time and energy in scientific education and in making science accessible to the general public.
Professor Chen is married with two children.
Following the announcement of his appointment, he addressed the members of the International Board, the members of the Executive Board, the Weizmann Institute of Science Faculty, staff and friends:
“I would like to thank the members of the Presidential Search Committee, the Weizmann Institute of Science International Board, the Institute scientists, its staff and friends for giving me the opportunity to take the reins of this leading scientific institution, to continue to reach new heights of excellence, and educational and scientific endeavor.”
Professor Alon Chen heads the Murray H. and Meyer Grodetsky Center for Research of Higher Brain Functions; the Nella and Leon Benoziyo Center for Neurosciences; the Gladys Monroy and Larry Marks Center for Brain Disorders; and The Norman and Helen Asher Center for Brain Imaging. His research is supported by the Perlman Family Foundation, founded by Louis L. and Anita M. Perlman; the Adelis Foundation; Mr and Mrs Bruno Licht; Sonia T. Marschak; and the Ruhman Family Laboratory for Research in the Neurobiology of Stress.