Opening the Gates: The New Hertz Fellows in Global

August 15, 2017
Robbee Baker Kosak
Livermore, Calif

Sanitation and clean water. Malaria and polio. Superbugs and the need for new antibiotics. What do all of these have in common? They are among the top health challenges the world is facing. Some are new threats while others have been on the list for decades but the fact remains—each of these issues threatens the health, safety and prosperity of the entire world.

Unfortunately, it’s not just those few issues we are facing. The list of global health and development challenges is long and growing longer as new diseases emerge and old ones resurface, urbanization becomes a global phenomenon and access to sanitary and dependable water supplies remains out of reach for millions. Fortunately, many people are working to solve these and other global challenges. New to the fight are Rebecca Carlson and Alyssa Ferris, the first two recipients of the recently announced Hertz Fellowship in Global Health and Development. This new Fellowship is a joint effort between the Hertz Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. One of the unique aspects of this Fellowship is the opportunity for recipients to spend two summers as interns with the global health and global development teams at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It’s a wonderful opportunity for these extraordinary PhD students to learn more about the myriad health and development challenges facing the world and to begin to extend their contributions in these arenas.

The Hertz Foundation has a 60-year history of supporting brilliant minds in their quest to make breakthrough discoveries and change the world. Our 1,200 Fellows have an impressive track record of making science and technology breakthroughs at young ages. Many of our Fellows have been part of the annual Forbes lists of “30 Under 30” in Science, including Tony Pan and Max Mankin of Modern Electron (revolutionizing power generation), Justin Solomon (machine learning and computer vision research); Nevada Sanchez of Butterfly Network, Inc. (next-generation surgical technologies); and Sabrina Pasterski (PhD candidate at Harvard, nicknamed the “New Einstein”). We’ve also supported and encouraged the development of technologies such as Ian McKay’s aluminum-based battery to power underwater vehicles and Christopher Loose’s development of medical products with surface modifications to reduce infection and clotting. And let’s not forget the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with a goal of bringing sustainable sanitation solutions to the 2.5 billion people worldwide without safe and affordable sanitation. In 2011, a team of Hertz Fellows led by Fellow Philip Eckhoff participated in the Challenge and designed a system using pyrolysis and electrolysis to dry and combust the waste. Innovative applications of technology and new ways of approaching problems can find solutions for many of the world’s most challenging issues.

Rebecca and Alyssa are new Hertz Fellows this year and they are well-prepared to tackle this new challenge. Both are bioengineering students, with Rebecca focusing on computational and experimental methods to study autoimmune diseases, and Alyssa focusing on using genetics and bioinformatics to solve practical problems in agriculture—such as improving the nutritional content of crops. They are excited to gain first-hand experience with a non-profit leading the way in global health.

At the Hertz Foundation, we are especially proud that the first recipients of this new Fellowship are women. It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math fields. According to the Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 from the National Science Foundation, women make up half the total U.S. college-educated workforce but only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce. Only 35.2 percent of chemists are women; only 10.7 percent of electrical or computer hardware engineers are women; and only 11.1 percent of physicists and astronomers are women. The Hertz Foundation is a strong supporter of women in STEM. We couldn’t have said it better than Melinda Gates did in an open letter to female graduates entering the technology field this year: “Innovation requires new insights and new perspectives—and that’s exactly what you have to offer.”

We believe Rebecca and Alyssa are poised to make wonderful contributions to world health. This is just the beginning of the Hertz Foundation opening the gates to improve global health and development. We look forward to seeing what Rebecca, Alyssa and future recipients of the Hertz Fellowship in Global Health and Development bring to the world. Stay tuned to our blog and social channels throughout the summer as we highlight more amazing Fellows and achievements in global health and development. And learn more about the Hertz Fellowship and how to apply for next year (hint—applications are due in October).