Forbes Israel 30 Under 30-Liyam Chitayat


April 8, 2024

L. Chitayat| Photo: Zeno Fox

Age: 20 >> PhD student at MIT

Even before she turned 20, Liyam Chitayat began her doctorate at MIT, one of the leading academic research institutions in the US and the world, and won the Hertz Award for Research Excellence - the most prestigious scholarship for a doctorate in the US.

Like all of us, nothing prepared her for October 7th. "I moved to the US to start my research exactly two months before the outbreak of the war," she says. On Saturday, I found myself trying to figure out where my family members and friends are - who is safe, who is hiding in the bomb shelter, who was kidnapped, and who is missing. The next day, a group of students, funded by MIT, had already sent a message to all students that the "Israeli apartheid regime" was to blame for the massacre.

"The level of hatred towards Jews and Israelis on campus was unimaginable: a painting of a swastika in the hallway, puddles of urine on the window of the prayer room, blocking the entrance to the campus, threatening Israeli faculty members - all were the lot of the Israelis at MIT.

"From the dark and difficult period of my life, I realized that I had use my voice from my place as an Israeli student in the USA. In the week after the attack, I organized and spoke at events for the return of the hostages, protests against anti-Semitism, a memorial event for the murdered victims, and public awareness activities about the Nova massacre. I paid a heavy personal and professional price. Students on campus ignored me. Tens of thousands of comments on my videos accused me of war crimes. But it was important to spread the messages against the pro-Hamas propaganda."


In Academia from the age of 12

Despite her very young age, Liyam has been part of academia for many years. She is a graduate of the Odyssey program of the Future Scientists Center. She began her bachelor's degree studies in chemistry and biology at Tel Aviv University at the age of 12, graduating with honors as one of the top 10 students in the Faculty of Exact Sciences.

In her first degree, she carried out research in the field of immunology, for which she was awarded the Zinger Award for research excellence in the field of chemistry. At the age of 14, she worked as an artificial intelligence researcher at Western Digital. From there, she continued for her master's degree and developed microbiome engineering methods, which she published in two articles as the first author. In the IDF, she served as an outstanding scientist in the biological engineering department at the Medical Academy and led projects in the fields of biology and artificial intelligence.


Leaps and bounds

"During my PhD, I am working on the creation of cells within cells, the purpose of which is to expand the capabilities and functions of biological systems," Lee-Yim says. "The different sensing abilities and functions that humans can achieve are limited by the chemistry available to living beings billions of years ago. Today, scientific and technological developments have created a variety of chemical production and processing processes that are inaccessible to living beings. The way in which evolution occurs, and especially its rate, does not allow the leaps and bounds required to allow living creatures to take advantage of all the abilities we have discovered.

"I draw inspiration from the wonderful inventions created by evolution, and ask how I could engineer the body and cells of the creatures around me to be able to absorb a wider range of colors and sounds, communicate in a subsonic range or do photosynthesis."


Liyam is the founder of Nucleate Israel, an organization that, inspired by and in cooperation with similar centers worldwide, encourages entrepreneurship and connects Israeli students in the fields of biotechnology and medicine to centers in the Israeli industry. In addition, it is the youngest member in the 8400 network of senior health-tech executives in Israel.


What is your highlight moment so far?

"From the very beginning, my mother has done everything in her power to allow me to fulfill my dreams and ambitions. She supported and believed in me, even when no one else did, and did everything she could despite being a single mother.

"The most significant high point for me so far is the day my mother opened the letter announcing my winning the Hertz research scholarship. This is the most prestigious scholarship for doctoral students in the field of science. It is given to 15 doctoral researchers in science and technology throughout the United States based on exceptional achievements. The day she opened the acceptance letter was a moment when I could give her and show her how grateful I am for who she is and her role in my life."

L. Chitayat | Photo: Zeno Fox