Celebrating Excellence


Photo: Prof. Mary-Claire King

The Weizmann Institute of Science bestowed honorary Ph.D.s upon seven individuals on Monday, Nov. 8, in recognition of their career and personal achievements. The degrees were presented during a ceremony held in-person and broadcast virtually as part of the 73rd Annual General Meeting of the International Board.

Weizmann Institute President Prof. Alon Chen congratulated and conferred the degrees on the honorees, who participated in the ceremony both in person in the Michael Sela Auditorium on the Weizmann campus, and from their homes around the world. The hybrid nature of the event echoed the “borderless” theme selected for this year’s International Board events.

“Through their professional accomplishments, personal dedication, their passion, and their drive for excellence, our Ph.D. recipients have created new opportunities, new insights, and new hope for the world,” Chen said.

The recipients of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s PhD honoris causa for 2021 are:

Prof. Mary-Claire King: A world-renowned medical geneticist currently serving as the American Cancer Society Professor at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in Seattle. Prof. King’s career has been primarily focused on the genetics of breast cancer, where she has left a lasting impact. She was the first to show that breast cancer can be inherited due to mutations in the BRCA1 gene and laid the foundation for modern clinical cancer genetics. At the same time, her research has opened the field of genetic susceptibility for other adult illnesses, including colon cancer, schizophrenia, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis. A recipient of Israel’s Dan David Prize (2018) as well as the US National Medal of Science (2016), Prof. King is known for applying her scientific expertise to advance numerous humanitarian causes, such as eradicating hereditary deafness and identifying the remains of victims of human rights violations.

Dr. Mark Alexander: A graduate of New York Medical College and Brown University, Alexander owned a private medical practice and, in a long career in business and industry, has held many senior leadership positions. Dr. Alexander has provided major philanthropic funding for key initiatives such as the Norman E. Alexander Family M Foundation Wing of the André Deloro Building for Advanced and Intelligent Materials; Frontiers of the Universe; and the Weizmann Coronavirus Response Fund. A member of the Institute’s International Board, he also serves on the National Board of Directors of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science (ACWIS).

Prof. Philip Pincus: Distinguished Professor of Physics and Materials at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Pincus previously served as Head of the Department of Physics and as the Director of UCSB’s Biomolecular Science and Engineering Program. He is considered one of the founding fathers of soft matter physics and biological physics and has guided generations of scientists in multiple disciplines over the years. His research, which cuts across conventional categories, has yielded seminal contributions to our understanding of matter.

Sir András Schiff: A world-renowned pianist, conductor, educator, and lecturer. Born in Budapest as the only child of two Holocaust survivors, Sir András is a preeminent interpreter of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven who has received a Grammy Award, Gramophone Award, Royal Academy of Music Bach Prize, and the Mozart Medal. Knighted by Her Majesty the Queen in 2014, he is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Piano at the Barenboim-Said Akademie in Berlin, and the first artist-in-residence of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Dr. John Schwartz: A physician and entrepreneur who founded Continuing Medical Education Inc., which provides clinical information for American medical professionals and keeps them up-to-date throughout their careers. He also launched Value Investing Congress, a continuing education service for hedge fund managers and high-net-worth investors around the world. Together with his wife Vera, Dr. Schwartz is a leading member of the Weizmann global community of supporters, having established an endowed chair in neurobiology (held by Weizmann President Prof. Alon Chen), and the John and Vera Schwartz Family Center in Metabolic Biology. The couple’s most recent gift was for the Institute’s flagship program in particle physics and astrophysics, Frontiers of the Universe.

Vera Schwartz: She has spent a long career in the acquisition and administration of research grants for academia and clinical care, including at UCLA and the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research in Los Angeles, which has had an immense impact on the quality and availability of patient care in her home city. Together with her husband, Dr. John Schwartz, Vera has become a major supporter of the Weizmann Institute of Science—in neurobiology, metabolic biology, and, most recently, the flagship project Frontiers of the Universe—and has been an ambassador for the Institute as well as a major advocate for basic research.

Prof. Otmar D. Wiestler: A German physician and scientific leader, and President of the Hemholz Association of German Research Centers—a union of 18 institutions that, together, are a major force for scientific advancement in Europe. During his long career in medicine and pathology, including as a Professor for Neuropathology and Director of the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Bonn, he has made major contributions to basic and clinical research in fields such as tumor genetics and stem cell-based cancer therapy. He was formerly the Chairman of the Board and Scientific Director of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg (DKFZ). Throughout his career and as President of Helmholtz, he has built scientific bridges between Germany and Israel, particularly with the Weizmann Institute.

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