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The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation’s relentless 61-year-old annual search for the best young science, maths, and engineering graduates is developing into a closer relationship with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is funding the addition of six Hertz Fellows to help fight the spread of malaria and food-crop diseases.

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The young Hertz Fellows will spend two summers working with top researchers in key programs identified by the Gates Foundation as critical to its mission of improving global health and development outcomes.

Robbee Baker Kosak, president of the Hertz Foundation, said she was delighted with the success of last year’s fellows program with the Gates Foundation and that the relationship had expanded.

“The partnership between our two foundations started due to a shared belief in the importance of bringing scientific and technological solutions to the wide range of health and development challenges faced by people around the world,” said Kosak.

Some of the Hertz Fellows.

The Hertz Foundation is well known for its rigorous methods of surfacing the best of the best among thousands of young graduates through several levels of application, recommendation, and interviews by panels of top academics:

“Each submission requires four letters of reference and candidates are evaluated on creativity, drive, and innovation. Two personal interviews are required. Applicants that show entrepreneurial traits and own patents are favored in the selection process.”

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Only 12 to 15 will be chosen from more than 800 that go through the application process, but with the Gates Foundation partnership, this adds an additional six fellows.

Hertz Fellows receive five years of funding at any university to work on any project without restrictions — plus they have access to a mentorship program among the more than 1200 Hertz Fellows.

Many are successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs such as TJ Rodgers, founder of Cypress Semiconductor, and Eric “Astro” Teller, head of Alphabet’s ($GOOG) experimental “moonshots” lab.

Interestingly, Teller is the grandson of Edward Teller, the US physicist that inspired the mission of the Hertz Foundation to search for the best young graduates. Edward Teller is best known for his work on boosting the explosive power of atomic bombs by adding heavy water and creating the H-bomb.

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Teller was a close friend of John Hertz, the founder of the Hertz car rental business. Teller convinced him that progress in engineering and applied sciences is the “fuel that improves the human condition.”

“Nearly two decades ago, the Foundation expanded the Fellowship to students in the biological sciences, and they’ve made extraordinary advances in their fields,” said Kosak. “We’re humbled that the Gates Foundation is now opening doors to these young researchers with a passion for global health and development.”

Silicon Valley is very close to the Livermore-based organization. And five of the six Hertz Fellows chosen to work with the Gates Foundation scientists have local connections with Stanford, UCSF, and Berkeley universities.

The 2018 Global Health and Development Fellows are:

  • Sarah Hooper, who is working with statistical approaches to improving malaria diagnosis
  • Maxim Rabinovich, who is focusing on delivering malaria medication
  • Reuben Saunders, who studies maternal and infant nutrition
  • Judith Savitskaya, who works on plant-biomes
  • Ravi Sheth, who works on gut health and infant mortality
  • Alex Siegenfeld, who is looking at geospatial malaria data in Nigeria

They will join returning fellow Alex Ferris who has been studying the spread of cassava disease.

The Hertz Fellows are just the tip of an immensely talented pool of young STEM graduates. Kosak hopes that the partnership with Gates Foundation will attract other organizations that could offer them funding opportunities or involve them in working on important projects.

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