Meet Pavitra S R, originally from India, a PhD candidate at Prof. Dror Fixler’s Advanced Light Microscopy Laboratory in the Alexander Kofkin Faculty of Engineering at Bar-Ilan University. Pavitra works on developing a novel, non-invasive method to detect and treat atherosclerosis – the leading cause of death and disability in the western world. In research led by her doctoral adviser Prof. Fixler, who is also Director of Bar-Ilan’s Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA), Pavitra is using gold nanorods and new imaging technology in an effort to diagnose and treat this disease in its early stages, before hardened and narrowed arteries trigger heart attacks or strokes.

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Pavitra, 27, first came to Israel in July 2018 to attend the Summer Program in Nano Photonics at BIU’s Faculty of Engineering, designed for outstanding graduate students from India and China, providing them with scholarships, accommodations and meals. “During the program I was introduced to Bar-Ilan University’s research projects in biophotonics, particularly the exciting new innovations in optical super resolved imaging and fluorescent microscopy,” says the accomplished young woman who grew up in a small village near Bangalore and obtained a BSc in applied chemistry from Kuvempu University, Karnataka and an MSc in photonics from Manipal University. “It was a great opportunity for me to come to Bar-Ilan University and meet Prof. Fixler, and learn about his groundbreaking biomedical research with gold nanorods.”

Pavitra recalls several months earlier checking with friends and searching on Google for a good place where she could do her doctorate. Discovering that Israel – and particularly Bar-Ilan – is a leader in nano biophotonics, she contacted Prof. Fixler, who recommended that she join the summer program and see for herself.

“The summer program was really interesting. In just a few weeks we learned about super resolution techniques, nanoelectronic devices, fluorescence microscopy, and so much more, with BIU experts in the field – Prof. Zeev ZalevskyProf. Doron Naveh as well as Prof. Fixler.

“This was a good platform for research work following graduate studies,” notes Pavitra, who also enjoyed the Thursday excursions to Haifa’s Bahai Gardens, a Kibbutz utilizing advanced agricultural technologies, a solar energy center and farm in the desert down south, and the Western Wall in Jerusalem. After the program, she returned to India for a few months before heading back to Israel to commence her PhD studies in the fall of 2018.

Pavitra, who, in India, was a project assistant working with silicon photonics to be used in the next generation of electronic devises and sensors, is enthusiastic about her doctoral studies. “Bar-Ilan is really a fantastic place where one can conduct meaningful research. There’s a close relationship between faculty and students, and the university staff is very friendly and helps us with our studies on campus,” relays Pavitra, who hopes to eventually conduct postdoctoral research in Europe and pursue an academic research career either in India or elsewhere. In the meantime, she finds Israel and Israelis to be quite nice. “In the media, Israel is portrayed as being unsafe, but that’s not really true. It’s peaceful here,” stresses the ambitious Bar-Ilan PhD candidate.