American Philosophical Society
Member History

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1. Mathematical and Physical Sciences[X]
106. Physics[X]
1Name:  Dr. Eshel Ben-Jacob
 Institution:  Tel Aviv University; Rice University
 Year Elected:  2014
 Class:  1. Mathematical and Physical Sciences
 Subdivision:  106. Physics
 Residency:  International
 Living? :   Deceased
 Birth Date:  1952
 Death Date:  June 5, 2015
Eshel Ben-Jacob was a professor of Physics and Astronomy, Maguy-Glass Prof. in Physics of Complex Systems and Member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, Israel. He was also an Adjunct Prof. of Biosciences and Senior Investigator at the Center of Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP) at Rice University. Prof. Ben-Jacob finished his PhD in Physics (1982) at Tel Aviv University, during which he investigated the nonlinear dynamics and noise effects in networks of superconductors. He spent three years (1981-1984) as a post doctoral fellow at the Institute for Theoretical Physics (ITP; today KITP) at the University of California Santa Barbara and made his first groundbreaking work during that time. He and his collaborators solved the long standing "snowflake" problem, formulated by Kepler back in 1610, and lay the foundations of self-organization and pattern formation in open systems far from equilibrium - a field he pioneered and in which he made several breakthroughs (e.g., comprehending the singular interplay between the micro and macro level dynamics, formulating new self-consistent selection principles, founding a new theory of morphology selection). At the same time, Ben-Jacob suggested and showed, theoretically and experimentally, that Coulomb effect can be utilized to control single electron quantum tunneling in sub-micron systems. This led him to the invention (1988) of a transistor operating by single electron tunneling. He was awarded the Landau Prize for research in 1986. Ben-Jacob continued to study quantum effects in small systems, predicting (in the 90s) that flux solitons can behave as quantum relativistic particles. Enthralled by the even greater challenge posed by self-organization in living systems, Ben-Jacob embarked on a new direction of applying physics principles and investigation methods to biology. His first and ongoing effort was bacterial colony development, believing that the foundations of cognition are rooted in these most fundamental life forms - in their abilities to assess the environment, process the information they sense, and adapt accordingly. Among his achievements in the last two decades in physical microbiology were revealing the principles of self organization in bacterial colonies and of collective decision making by social bacteria. While continuing to work on bacteria, Ben-Jacob turned to apply what he learned there to studies of neural network organization and task performance. Here, his most noticeable accomplishment was the first imprinting of multiple memories in live neuronal networks outside the brain utilizing his new "functional holography" analysis of the network activity. Being recognized as a revolutionary step in Networks Neuroscience, this endeavor was selected by Scientific American as one of the 50 most important achievements in all fields of science and technology in 2007. Ben-Jacob then utilized the "functional holography" method for analyzing recorded human brain activity with application to epilepsy. He applied his methods in clinical studies of brain repair from stroke and traumatic brain injuries by hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Ben-Jacob's last endeavor was applying what he learned from the microbial world in cancer research. Here he promoted the idea that cancer cells, like bacteria, use advanced communication and cooperation through which they migrate, colonize new organs, develop drug resistance, deceive the immune system and enslave stromal cells. In line of this paradigm, he worked on revealing the operational principles underlying these lethal traits and developing a new theoretical framework to studying new classes of therapeutic strategies intended to defeat cancer by means of "cyberwar", i.e. targeting its communication, cooperation and control. Prof. Ben-Jacob served as vice president (1998-2001) and President (2001-2004) of the Israel Physical Society. He was granted the award of Cavaliere dell'Ordine della Stella della solidarietà Italiana for promotion of science and science culture (2008). He was awarded the Weizmann prize in Physical Sciences in 2013 for "innovative application of physical methods to the study of biological communities such as bacteria colonies, neural networks, and tumors" and inducted an International member of the American Philosophical Society in mathematical and physical sciences in 2014. He died on June 5, 2015, in Tel Aviv, Israel, at the age of 63.
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