Prof. Daniel Zajfman

Born in Belgium in 1959, Daniel Zajfman moved to Israel in 1979. He received a B.Sc. in 1983 and a Ph.D. in 1989 from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, in atomic physics. After working as a consultant for Elscint in Haifa, Prof. Zajfman spent two years at the Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago, as a postdoctoral fellow. He returned to Israel in 1991 and joined the staff of the Weizmann Institute's Department of Particle Physics as a senior scientist. He was appointed associate professor in 1997 and full professor in 2003. Since March 2001, he has been an external member of the Max Planck Institute of Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, and in 2005, he was appointed Director in that institute. In November 2006, Prof. Zajfman was elected the tenth President of the Weizmann Institute by Institute’s Board of Governors. He assumed this position on December 1, becoming, at 47, the youngest president the Institute ever had.

Prof. Zajfman's research interests focus on atomic and molecular physics, with a strong emphasis on molecular breakup via electron or photon interactions. These issues are most relevant not only to the field of molecular dynamics, but also to the understanding of laboratory and astrophysical plasmas. In essence, Prof. Zajfman wishes to determine how, under harsh conditions, molecules are formed in galaxy's diffuse and dense interstellar clouds. Prof. Zajfman’s experiments involve the use of storage rings, advanced devices in which molecular ions move through a circular vacuum at speeds of approximately 10,000 kilometers per second. The “hot” ions that are produced are then cooled to interstellar temperatures by retaining them in the storage ring. In recent years, Prof. Zajfman developed an improved version of the so-called “ion trap” for the study of molecular reactions, thus enabling him to create a tabletop version of the huge and very expensive storage rings. This, coupled with a new technique he developed for long-term ion storage, enables him to reproduce, in the laboratory, some of the conditions (e.g. low temperature and a low-density environment) existing in interstellar space.

Prof. Zajfman also seeks to understand the astrophysical conditions found in star-forming regions or supernova remnants. Stars are born when an interstellar cloud, made up of atoms and molecules, collapses on itself. Prof. Zajfman and his colleagues work to solve the riddle of star formation by recreating interstellar conditions in a laboratory environment. For years, scientists believed that molecular collisions occurring as interstellar clouds collapse cause energy to be released in the form of radiation, which cools the system down. Prof. Zajfman was among those scientists who proved that an important component of this radiating “coolant” was ordinary water.In other studies, Prof. Zajfman has developed new techniques for the direct, three-dimensional imaging of molecular breakup events, providing new insight into these basic chemical processes. In addition to his research, Prof. Zajfman has invested much time and effort in community outreach, to the public in general and youth in particular. One of his goals is to broaden interest in and knowledge of the advances taking place on the scientific front. He has also taught various undergraduate and graduate physics courses, both at the Technion and at the Weizmann Institute