As a former participant of Weizmann’s International Physics tournament and the Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute, Shawn Bramson reflects on those experiences and why he has continued to volunteer with Weizmann Canada for more than a decade.
Growing up in Montreal, Shawn Bramson was first introduced to Weizmann through the Shalheveth Freier International Physics Tournament in 2008, with his team at Bialik High School. For him, the tournament was an interesting and novel idea, different from any other competition he had heard about, while being very in-line with his areas of interest: physics, project management, design and engineering.
Designing a safe, using principles from physics, the team hoped to be a Canadian finalist and earn a chance to compete against other teams at the final international competition in Israel. Unfortunately, his team was not a Canadian finalist, however he remembers it as a positive experience that really impacted him. “It was a defining moment that was humbling and necessary,” he reflects. “I took a lot away from that experience.”
With a newfound passion for the tournament and added drive from not being a finalist the previous year, Shawn returned to Bialik to help coach the team the next three years, with two of those teams winning the regional competition in Montreal and going on to compete in Israel.
Having visited the campus, which reminded him of a “Garden of Eden for scientists,” and seeing everything that the Weizmann Institute had to offer, he was accepted into the Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute in 2009. Choosing nanochemistry as an area he found particularly fascinating, Shawn studied under Dr. Yaron Tidhar and Prof. Boris Rybtchinski and spent three amazing weeks in that lab in an experience he says, “I never would have had anywhere else.”
When not in the lab, he got to tour parts of Israel on the weekend, getting an amazing cultural experience in additional to an academic one. A particular highlight was meeting other participants from the program, some of which he is still close with. To get to meet people of a similar mindset but from different walks of life and places to learn from each other is something Shawn says is “something the world needs more of.”
After three years of coaching Bialik’s team, Shawn went on to be an advisor for Weizmann Canada for the International Physics Tournament for the past 10 years and has cherished the opportunity to get students hands-on with science. With much of school often about testing and learning, he sees the tournament as an amazing opportunity to get out of the textbook and see how physics can work in the real world. Ultimately, he hopes others can have an experience like he did – win or lose.
Following an interest in engineering, Shawn went on to graduate from McGill University in software engineering and then moved to New York for a master’s program between Cornell and Technion and was part of the pioneering class of that program in 2014. Still living in New York City, Shawn has been working with Verizon after an internship turned into a permanent role. Still following many of the interests he started with when he first entered the physics tournament as an 11th grader 14 years ago, he gets to work hands-on as a Product Manager, working with a strategy team to innovate and come up with new ideas for 5G networks.
Thinking about how much he has learned from his Weizmann experiences and why he continues to be an ambassador for what the Institute does, he says, “If you look at the research, it really does benefit humanity in all these different domains. You get this opportunity at Weizmann to pursue what excites you and what you are curious about. Scientists are able to pursue what they are interested in and what can benefit the world.”