In Vietnamese, Thien means “sky”, and Truong means “big”, and just like his name implies, Thien Van Truong is someone with big dreams and ambitions.
Thien Van Truong, 32, is from Da Nang City in Central Vietnam. His family originates from Binh Dinh province, about 200 km. from Da Nang.
Thien is conducting his doctoral research in biochemistry in Dr. Guy Patchornik’s lab in the Department of Chemical Science at Ariel University. It involves crystalizing protein membranes in an effort to create and develop novel methods for altering structures of old and new proteins. Understanding a protein’s structure can lead to the production of new drugs and industrial applications. His eyes light up as he describes the beauty of the crystals under the microscope, describing them as “purple diamonds”. “It’s not easy to optimize the conditions for creating bigger crystals, which involves controlling temperature, pH and protein concentration. It is a very slow process which often involves waiting at least a week, sometimes over a month for results.” Still in the preliminary stage, his project aims to produce bigger crystals and high quality, and then analyze their structures.
Thien first became interested in this field when he was a student and instructor at Da Nang University. After completing his master’s degree in biochemistry, he wanted to open himself up to new experiences and knowledge. He applied to a notice posted by Dr. Patchornik looking for a PhD student. Although he also considered positions in Europe and South Korea, his decision to come to Israel was influenced by programs he had seen about Israel on television. The abundance of information about opportunities for study in technology, science and agriculture available from the Israeli Embassy in Vietnam helped Thien decide on Israel. At first, his father questioned whether he should come to the Middle East but gave him his blessing to go wherever he chooses to further his career.
Thien has been at AU since January 2017. He lives in a comfortable single room in a brand new modern dormitory building. He uses public transportation to travel around Israel, especially to Tel Aviv and the Old City of Jerusalem. He has made friends among other graduate students, particularly students from India. He also gets together with friends he has met through the Vietnamese Embassy for holidays and special occasions. He cooks for himself and has developed a taste for pita and hummus. After two years he’s adjusted to the climate, but he still prefers summer to winter. He goes to the beach often, like he did daily back home in Da Nang.
Thien admits that he’s a bit of an introvert, but that doesn’t keep him from venturing out on weekends to explore the country. “I love learning about how people here live, and capturing the panache of the shuk on my camera.” He has learned to deal with Israeli hutzpah. “Anyone who decides to go to another country and culture must sacrifice something to get something, so I choose to look at the positive side.”
Every week, when he travels by bus to Weizmann Institute in Rehovot to attend a class on protein structure with another doctorate student from his lab, he tries to pick up simple conversations to improve his Hebrew. He continues to study the language on his own.
Thien has been able to travel to Europe during the course of his stay in Israel. He admires Israelis who travel widely around the world. “Most Vietnamese people cannot afford that luxury, but people who have come here from my country are amazed by Israel’s innovation. Vietnamese students who come here to learn about agriculture have gone back and instituted big changes in irrigation, biological pesticides and agricultural yield. Vietnam is a very beautiful country with a young, dynamic workforce and abundant natural resources. I hope that Israelis will support us in enhancing sustainable development and preserving natural and historic sites, as well.”
After completing his doctorate in two years, Thien would like to continue for a post-doc, either in Israel or elsewhere before returning to Vietnam. He would like to strengthen his knowledge of Hebrew and maintain his relationship with Ariel University. He hopes to contribute to strengthening the relations in the field of scientific collaboration between Israel and Vietnam.
“There is a lot of potential for developing science and technology in Vietnam, and I want to make a contribution there with new knowledge and skills. Everyone has different ways to help their country, I want to come back to Vietnam to make a change – even a small change to make my country better.”