Tag Archives: MIT

Jew of the Week: Dan Bricklin

“Father of the Spreadsheet”

Daniel Singer Bricklin (b. 1951) was born in Philadelphia and studied at its Akiba Hebrew Academy. He graduated from MIT in 1973 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. His first job was working at a tech company called DEC, replacing typewriters with computers for newspaper companies. He then became DEC’s project leader on its development of the first word-processing software. After a few years, Bricklin moved on to work at FasFax, designing some of the first electronic cash registers for fast food companies. In 1979, he got an MBA from the Harvard Business School. During his studies there, fed up with repetitive and tedious calculations, Bricklin came up with an idea for an electronic spreadsheet. Teaming up with his friend, the two put together a new program called VisiCalc for the Apple II computer. This was the first spreadsheet software ever made, and the foundation for future spreadsheet programs like Excel. In fact, it was VisiCalc that transformed the computer from a mysterious device reserved for techies to a practical tool used by mainstream businesses and consumers. VisiCalc skyrocketed sales of the Apple II, leading Steve Jobs to admit that it “propelled the success of Apple… more than any other single event… If VisiCalc had been written for some other computer, you’d be interviewing somebody else right now.” A New York Times article at the time wrote humorously, but accurately: “All Hail VisiCalc.” For this, Bricklin was awarded the prestigious Grace Murray Hopper Award, among many others. Since then, Bricklin has started a number of other successful tech and software companies, and is currently the president of Software Garden, and the CTO of Alpha Software. He has also published a book, and has been featured in two documentaries. Watch Bricklin’s short and fascinating TED talk here.

Words of the Week

In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence… Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.
– Isaac Newton

Jew of the Week: Ada Yonath

The Woman Who Revolutionized Biochemistry

Yonath at the Weizmann Institute (Credit: Miki Koren)

Yonath at the Weizmann Institute (Credit: Miki Koren)

Ada Yonath (b. 1939) was born in Jerusalem, the daughter of Polish Zionists that immigrated to Israel in 1933. Growing up in poverty, she found solace in books, and was inspired by the Polish-French scientist Marie Curie. Yonath studied chemistry at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and earned a Ph.D from the Weizmann Institute in 1968. Her focus was on x-ray crystallography, a technique for visualizing biochemical structures. After postdoc studies at Carnegie Mellon and MIT, Yonath returned to Israel to establish the country’s only protein crystallography lab. In the 1980s, she started developing a new crystallography technique that was initially met with a lot of resistance from the scientific community. Yonath silenced her critics with amazing results, and discovered some of the key mechanisms in the body’s production of proteins. By 2001, she unraveled the mysteries of the ribosome, the structure responsible for producing protein from the body’s genetic code. In addition to this, she discovered how dozens of antibiotics impact the ribosome, contributing tremendously to our understanding of antibiotics and drug resistance. The technique she invented, cryo bio-crystallography, is now standard in top biochemistry labs around the world. In 2009, Yonath was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. That made her the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first Middle Eastern woman to win a Nobel Prize in science, and the first woman to win the Prize in Chemistry in 45 years (and only the fourth overall). Yonath has won a handful of other awards, including the Harvey Prize, the Rothschild Prize, the Wolf Prize, the Albert Einstein World Award of Science, and the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science. Despite being in her 70s, Yonath is still doing very important research in her lab at the Weizmann Institute. Some say she may even be up for a second Nobel Prize! She also hopes to write a novel as soon as she has some extra time. (Click here to see an incredible video of a ribosome working in the body, based on Dr. Yonath’s research.)

Words of the Week

Family is not punishment! When I sit with young people and they say, “You’re a mother and you took care of the kids”, I say: “It’s a privilege.”
– Ada Yonath