Meet Andrew Hebbeler –
Scientist. Polcymaker – and Piano Man

Dr. Andrew M. Hebbeler

When Dr. Andrew M. Hebbeler says that is life is “like a series of pinch-me moments,” he knows what he’s talking about.

Just a little more than a decade removed from his college days, he has already achieved many of the goals he originally set for himself in public health and science. Currently, he is Deputy Director in the Office of Science and Technology Cooperation at the U.S. Department of State. In this position, he helps to oversee bilateral and multilateral science and technology agreements that promote scientific development, research, and partnerships with nations all over the world. His expertise serves him well as a new member of BSF’s Board of Governors, where he plays a key role in enhancing the already-strong bonds between the scientific communities in Israel and in the United States.

“It’s such a rewarding experience,” said Hebbeler of his involvement with BSF. “The world-class technological capabilities that Israel is bringing to bear are truly impressive, and these scientific partnerships benefit the United States as much as they do Israel, because we have so many on-going projects involving many scientists, researchers and major universities throughout the United States.”

Hebbeler visited Israel for the first time in March. He was impressed not only with the research he saw, but also with Israel’s commitment to science and cutting-edge research institutions.

“It shows that this is a nation that is both proud and serious about its scientific and technological possibilities,” he said.

Still, funding grants is always challenging, especially for young scientists. That’s why Hebbeler appreciates BSF’s commitment to identifying promising up-and-comers, and providing grants for potentially transformative projects during their initial stages.

“If you can create linkages (between scientists) early, then that bond continues even after the funding ends,” Hebbeler said. “If you look at the number of scientists who were funded early by BSF, and who have gone on to win the Nobel Prize or so many other prestigious honors, you know that BSF has an amazing record of spotting remarkable scientists who are just starting out.”

Remarkable also describes Hebbeler’s own career trajectory. In the 11 years since he received his Ph.D. in molecular microbiology and immunology from the University of Maryland Baltimore, Hebbeler’s work has led him to tackle some of the world’s foremost challenges, including disease outbreaks and terrorism threats.

As a Postdoctoral Fellow at Baltimore’s Institute of Human Virology, he assessed the ability of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to restore an immune compartment (peripheral blood gammadelta T lymphocytes) damaged by HIV infection. A second Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology in San Francisco gave him the opportunity to further investigate novel ways to treat HIV infections.

“I’ve always been interested in public health and science, but when I was younger, I wasn’t sure how I could combine them,” he said.

The answer came in 2009, when he was awarded a Fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The opportunity took him to the State Department, where he would discover how scientists could become involved in the federal policymaking process.

He would eventually serve in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology, where he became the Assistant Director for Biological and Chemical Threats. From there, he went back to the State Department to manage and oversee the Biosecurity Engagement Program (BEP), a $40 million program created to prevent terrorist access to potentially dangerous biological materials, and to combat infectious disease outbreaks around the world, and several other programs that support international scientific cooperation to advance mutual security objectives.

“Being with the State Department has given me tremendous opportunities to use my technical knowledge to inform both science and policymaking,” he said. “As much as I appreciated being in labs when I was younger, I was able to transition from a life in the lab to a life in policy.”

Andrew Hebbeler in the Amazon rainforest outside Iquitos, Peru.

His love of all things technical stretches to his life outside the State Department. He started piano lessons several years ago, and since then, he’s been “obsessed with Bach” – especially the Arioso and the Two-part Inventions, pieces often considered intricate and difficult for piano students to master.

“I think I appreciate the control and structure involved in exploring Bach,” he said. “I think there’s some similarity to science because control and structure are important there, as well.”

He’s also exploring his genealogy – not only to learn about his family tree, but also to satisfy his love of data-crunching.

“I haven’t found anything earth-shattering in my family tree, but it’s always fascinating to me to discover more about my ancestors and their stories,” he said.

On and off the job, Hebbeler is intrigued by discoveries and possibilities. His infinite curiosity has served him well.

“I have always asked myself how I could make contributions to this world at a higher level,” he said. “I am very grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had so far to live up to that.”