Meet Yael Kurzweil Segev, a physicist working with the New Technology group at Nova. Yael shares how her lifelong curiosity and passion for education eventually led her to Nova and how she fosters that same curious nature she’s had all her life in her own children.
Hi, Yael. It’s nice to meet you. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
I live in Mevo Horon , a beautiful settlement, with my dear family. When I have time, I like to paint and play the piano.
I Love to explore and invent since I was at a young age, and I loved physics already in high school thanks to the great teacher I had, Dr. Denino. But I never really thought I’ll have the privilege to work in physics.
I studied at the Hebrew U in Jerusalem, enrolling in an integrated science program combining physics and chemistry. There, I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as my Ph.D.
In the first year of my bachelor’s met my husband on campus, so the university is a very special place for my family’s story. Our first boy was born already in the last year of this degree.
My husband and I were happy to learn that all of our children love science and are curious about what their parents are doing.
I feel that Combining my family and my passion for physics is both a challenge as well as something beautiful in my life.
What drew you to study physics?
Studying physics was not in my plan at all. As I said before, even though I loved physics, I didn’t really believe that I’ll have the privilege to work in this field. I simply opened the informational resources offered by Hebrew University and saw the subjects offered there. There were a lot of interesting options, and when I saw physics, I thought, “Well, there’s another option.”
I told myself that I’d give myself a year to study physics and then would start looking for a real profession. When the year ended, I was hooked! I just couldn’t stop studying it, and somehow, I ended up with three degrees.
I really like physics, and I’m really in love with the profession.
What does applied physics mean? And how is it different from theoretical physics?
In applied physics, you also go beyond theory–you get to build the systems. It is not just theoretical calculations but rather things that are relevant and connect to existing needs and build systems. It involves a lot of lab work.
What did you do after your Ph.D.?
I’m fascinated by entrepreneurship, so it’s always been in the back of my mind. So I joined a small start-up that focused on creating affordable communication by sending mini-satellites–the size of a shoe box—into space that can make reliable internet possible in Africa.
Space is a field with many different types of technologies involved and a very strong space community, specifically among women. This enabled me to meet women from all kinds of disciplines. There was such a powerful “Girl Power” energy there, which made the experience enthusiastic, alive, and so very, very fun.
Since we are already on the subject of children, share with us the interesting educational approaches you and your husband implement at home.
We are born with natural curiosity and a lot of desire, but somewhere in life, it gets lost. I see older people who are just tired. I want to preserve that childlike sense, both for my children and for me. This is a common approach for my husband and me: we don’t let a day pass without feeling that we are doing something interesting, exciting, and promoting, both in our personal and professional lives. He’s been an engineer at Intel for 20 years and just started his master’s degree in AI. He’s the only one, a 45-year-old adult, with a bunch of young students.
I also look at the kids, and I think, “They are born with so much energy, and then you stick toys in front of them that clog their curiosity.” the fact is, we can buy the most expensive toys, and they will still end up playing with plastic water bottles.
The reason for this is that they want to handle real things. Their brain is the most flexible and develops the fastest during those stages, and it’s a shame that these energies will be wasted.
I think that if we can simplify world problems for children, they will feel significant, and their curiosity will develop to offer new ideas, maybe not revolutionary, but still interesting. They have flexible minds and are capable of creative thinking. If we are able to make them feel as if they can contribute from a young age, then they will adopt that belief throughout their life. They will realize that there is something to live for.
For example: During my tenure at Elbit, I found myself working together with my children for the simple reason that they were at home due to COVID lockdowns. At that point, I decided I did not want to work away from them, as it was a fun and enjoyable experience. I spoke with my children about my work conversations, and we discussed the ideas that came up. I even asked them to come up with their own ideas and suggestions. It created a feeling of wholesomeness, that the whole family is now recruited into my work, and for them, it was very empowering.
During the coronavirus period, one thing that was difficult for the children and my husband, and me was the loss of control and sense of ability. The fact that we discovered that there are things we can do in this new reality was most empowering and greatly helped us to get through that time. That’s basically how we managed most of the period, and very interesting things came up.
And another important thing is if I am enthusiastic about what I do, why shouldn’t they feel enthusiastic as well? If they “give in” when their mother goes to work, then they at least deserve to understand the reason for my absence. They sacrifice mommy time, my hours, for the goals I think are justified, so it’s important to me that they understand the reason behind it. Every career decision that my husband and I both make; we consult with the children because it is a joint decision. We are one organic body, heading in a single direction.
What do you do at Nova?
I belong to the New Technology group, whose goal is to explore, search for and introduce new technologies to Nova. We are examining multiple technological directions.
How does your knowledge in the world of applied physics fit into your work at Nova?
It allows me to look for solutions theoretically and then examine the solution in the lab. Now at the New Tech department, I’m able to understand technologies and systems better and estimate their ability to solve our industry’s problems. In other words, my knowledge enables me to incorporate hands-on work in the lab with conceptual physical theory. It gives me a better understanding of the systems, the needs, and the solutions.
What is the common denominator between the roles you filled?
Working with people who are enthusiastic. I admire that. Working within a group that is devoted to their position. I like the connection that’s made–a connection between technology and science of different worlds–to make them “technology, science, and people.” In other words, creating something completely new is the connector. I really adore that.
You speak with a lot of enthusiasm about your work. What is the source of your motivation? What makes you get up every morning with such enthusiasm?
It would be naive to say, “to make the world a better place.” But I grew up surrounded by an education subscribing to the philosophy that from a young age, you learn about changing the world, to contribute to the world, so that there isn’t a day or a minute that passes that goes to waste. We were given our years of life to do good, develop, and contribute during every moment.
What can you say about your work experience at Nova?
Nova is an amazing and rare combination of people who are highly professional yet incredibly humble and nice, too. I mean, the atmosphere here seems rare to me; the modesty of the people and the company atmosphere allows lots and lots of sharing and a sense of joint learning all the time, even at lunch. There are curious people here who love the science they do, and it’s a lot of fun. All of this together with everyone’s passion to create something new together leads to the success we already see and to a fulfilling and fun working environment.