Four Questions with Jessica Silverman

Dan Brosgol
Director, Prozdor
July 24, 2013

Jessica SilvermanOne of the most exciting new offerings at Prozdor this fall will be a science, technology, engineering and math module in which students explore the intersection of Judaism and science in new and creative ways. We have tapped Acton, Mass. native Jessica Silverman, a newly minted Ph.D., to teach this section. Here, Silverman talks about her background, her love of science and her new role at Prozdor.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a perpetual student, always seeking out new opportunities to learn. That might explain why, on top of getting my PhD, I also studied for two years to complete my bat mitzvah this past March! I currently live in Medford with my wonderful husband, Rob, who is also a teacher, and our beautiful 1-year-old son, Micah. In what little free time I have, I like to practice yoga and bake. I’ve been involved with science since I was very young, thanks to my dad, who used to bring me and my cat Shadow to MIT to help teach his physics class about Schrodinger’s cat.

What are your plans for the summer and next year?

For the past four years, I have conducted research on the proteins that herpes viruses like chicken pox use to get into our cells. After earning my PhD in microbiology this summer, I will set aside this research and become a full-time (and then some!) teacher. I am very excited to take on two incredible teaching positions, one as a chemistry teacher at Newton South High School, and the other developing and implementing a STEM curriculum for Prozdor.

What excites you about teaching science, and what excites you about teaching Prozdor students?

I love to help students connect with the science that is an integral part of their daily lives and become informed citizens about scientific issues. I also believe that the critical thinking skills developed from a research-based approach to education can equip students to tackle nonscience related problems, too. People often think that science and religion don’t mix, but in my experience, the more I learn about science, the more I come to appreciate my Jewish faith, and vice versa. I think Prozdor offers an amazing opportunity to bring a Jewish perspective to science, and Prozdor students are equipped with a fluency in Jewish texts and philosophy that can make this goal a reality.

Any tidbits you can share about the two courses you'll be teaching in the fall?

In A Jewish Perspective on Scientific Ethics, we’ll tackle the broader theme of dual-use technology. For example, we might discuss how science that has the potential to bring great benefits to society can also do great harm. We’ll also ask how Judaism can help us make choices about how to use these technologies. Neuroscience and the Bible will cover topics in neurobiology inspired by biblical stories. What was happening in Jacob’s brain while he was dreaming? While Noah received divine instruction to build an ark and Moses saw a burning bush, how could the rest of us be tricked by our brains into seeing or hearing things that aren’t there? This class will also include a “tasty” demonstration!