Two Middlesex County residents — Daniel Shlian of Highland Park and Russell Spiewak of East Brunswick — are among five Yeshiva University students who have been serving this summer as Henry Kressel Research Scholars.
The scholarship — established in 2008 by Dr. Henry Kressel, former chair of the YU board of trustees — offers students the opportunity to craft a yearlong intensive research project under the direct supervision of university faculty. Candidates are nominated by individual professors who believe their nominees are engaged in remarkable work; candidates are chosen after careful consideration by a faculty committee.
This year’s Kressel scholars also include Yosef Frenkel of Riverdale, NY; Sheldon Lerman of Woodmere, NY; and Sima (Jennifer) Grossman of Brooklyn.
Shlian, a chemistry and Judaic studies major, is investigating alternative fuel sources with Dr. Jianfeng Jiang, associate professor of chemistry. “Our group has already synthesized a nickel-based compound, which is much less expensive than current catalysts, and used it to construct a prototype of a fuel cell,” said Shlian. “We’re now focusing on optimizing the design of the fuel cell for clean, affordable, and efficient energy.
“What’s been most exciting in the research has been seeing my name on a paper published in a major chemistry journal.”
With guidance from Jiang, Shlian was also accepted to the Kupcinet-Getz International Science School at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, to conduct additional research this summer, and he will write his honors thesis with Jiang in hopes of pursuing a doctorate in the field.
“At YU, I have had the unique opportunity to pursue courses of study in two areas about which I feel passionate — Judaic studies and chemistry — and participate in advancing in those fields outside the classroom,” said Shlian, who will also serve as editor of Kol Hamevaser, YU’s Jewish thought magazine, this year.
Spiewak, a mathematics and physics major, is getting hands-on programming experience and developing expertise in computer systems and connections in his research on current distribution in electrical power grids with physics professor Dr. Sergey Buldyrev. Their work seeks to simulate a cascade of failures — basically, how a terror attack or natural disaster could infiltrate and destroy the U.S. power grid and the many networks dependent on it — through computational equations.
“One of the most exciting aspects of the research so far is the feeling that I am actually driving and shaping its direction,” said Spiewak. “In a standard lab class, you’re given a set of instructions to follow and basically complete the lab when the instructions are finished. Here, I have been involved in the evolution of this project. Finding results from a research project is exciting in its own right, but when the project direction stems from my ideas, that takes the excitement to a whole new level.”
Ultimately, Spiewak said, he hopes to earn his doctorate in physics and is considering continuing his YU experience by pursuing studies toward ordination at its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. “I have taken interesting classes with knowledgeable professors here, had the opportunity to listen to fascinating guest lectures, partaken in fun extracurricular activities, met new friends, and had a good time while enhancing and furthering my education,” said Spiewak.