As a world-class athlete and member of the 2008 Israeli Olympic team, Alon Mandel is no stranger to stress. It’s one reason he’s happy to be working on a complicated research project as a first-year student in environmental health sciences.
“Doing the research,” he says, “I can deviate attention from the pressure.”
Under the guidance of faculty from the School of Public Health and the UM Department of Chemical Engineering, Mandel is at work on a thesis exploring two chemical warfare agents, VX and sulfur mustard. He dates his interest in chemistry to the First Gulf War, when he and his family waited out scud-missile attacks in underground shelters in their native city of Netanya, not far from Tel Aviv. Mandel went on to get an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at UM, where he also swam for the UM men’s team—and became a five-time Big Ten champion and four-time NCAA All-American.
“As a chemical engineer, I’m using thermo-dynamic models to predict the environmental fate of VX and sulfur mustard,” Mandel says of his thesis project. “VX has not been used in the battlefield yet, and it’s very, very toxic—it will kill whoever it touches—so I’m trying to predict what will happen if it’s deployed in the environment.”
Until recently, Alon Mandel, 22, trained twice daily at the University of Michigan’s Canham Natatorium, six days a week, in hopes of making a repeat Olympic appearance as a member of the 2012 Israeli swim team.
Note: In January, Alon Mandel interrupted his SPH studies to complete his mandatory service with the Israeli military. He continues to work on his thesis and plans to return to SPH when he completes his military obligations.