August 23, 2019

A Passion for the Sciences and the Humanities

Benjamin Levy, 17
High School: Valley Torah High School
Going to: Harvard University

Remember the name Benjamin Levy, because at some point in the not too distant future, there’s a good chance he will be at the forefront of some major scientific breakthrough.

With a maturity that belies his 17 years, Levy, who will graduate as valedictorian from Valley Torah, already has spent the past four summers as a computational biology intern at the City of Hope. He has worked with experts in the field to design novel cancer drugs by utilizing a mechanistic understanding of cancer-associated protein dynamics. He has co-authored two publications on the project results in cancer research, he has worked on Type 1 diabetes and has worked on the structural deviation between two superimposed proteins in conjunction with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, based on the Mars Rover software.

“My goal is to ultimately work in the pharmaceutical industry in the new paradigm of drug development,” Levy said in a phone interview. “My passion is biophysics, which started with an interest in physics.” That interest began with reading books by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose. 

Levy will attend Harvard and study computer science after spending a gap year at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Jerusalem, and this summer he will be working as a software development intern at Google. “That was really competitive to get into,” he said, “and I’m really excited about it.”

“I think it’s very important to have a grounding in the liberal arts.”

However, lest you think that Levy is just a science geek, he’s not. “I’ve never considered myself either a STEM person or a humanities person,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in both. I want to help design the drugs of the future and, in doing so, I think it’s very important to have a grounding in the liberal arts from philosophy to literature to history. I don’t think you can have an impact on society if you don’t have an understanding of society,” he said.

At school, he founded and became president of the Tutoring Club, and also founded the school’s Debate Club. “I put in an inconceivable amount of work into that club, and I’m really proud of it,” he said. “The reason I’m interested in debate is the same reason I’m interested in computer science,” he added. “I like thinking about it as the manipulation of information.”

Levy also enjoys karate, which he’s been studying since he was 5 years old, and has taught karate to special needs kids. “It’s the entire mindset that I love,” he said. “It’s really meditative and helps me clear my mind in every aspect of my life.”

For now, Levy is busy writing his valedictory speech, which he says will focus on the passions everyone has at Valley Torah. “It’s amazing to me how everyone at [school] has a passion and they’re willing to put their energy and effort into that passion,” he said.  “When you’re in an environment where you want to do something important with your life, and you’re not just sitting around and playing video games, you learn a lot from that.”