In a pivotal scene in the blockbuster film “Barbie,” the CEO of Mattel fumes: “No one rests until this doll is back in the box,” referring to Barbie’s escape from his toy universe into the real world (where, for instance, she swaps her pink high heels for some no-nonsense Birkenstocks.)

Like the film’s “Barbie,” Technion alumna Neta Blum B.Sc., M.Sc. has long railed against the stereotypes and double standards that often keep women in a box. Today, the aerospace engineer heads a technological division in Israel’s Ministry of Defense’s R&D body, has earned a place in Forbes Israel’s “30 Under 30,” was named one of 50 most influential Jews in The Jerusalem Post, and has become an inspiration to young girls everywhere.

“I always wanted to study new fields and to get out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I was always looking for the next step in my career.”

Blum grew up in Maryland and moved to Israel at age 17 to attend the Brakim excellence program, a joint Technion-Israel Defense Forces initiative that combines academic studies with military training. She was the only woman in a class of 20, and one of 10 students left standing at the completion of the rigorous four-year course. After graduation she served in the Israeli Air Force investigating airplane crashes, before joining the defense ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research & Development (DDR&D).

At the DDR&D, which is responsible for developing and overseeing research and defense technology, managing short-and-long-term projects, and training the next generation of defense tech professionals, she became the first woman and youngest person ever to head the Aviation Sciences Section. There, she led and developed Israel’s first 3D-printed UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), SkysPrinter. She then became the first woman head of the Cyber Section and the first woman to head her current division. While her work is classified, she is still developing cutting-edge technology that protects Israel. “Our work is vital for staying ahead of evolving threats, and ensuring the nation’s defense capabilities remain robust,” she said. “I love making a meaningful impact on Israel’s security. And the tools I received at the Technion gave me the ability to lead such technological game changers.

Blum followed her father’s path to the Technion, where she is now finishing her Ph.D. Her research explores the applicability of a principle from structural mechanics to soft biological tissues, specifically for potential advancements in cancer diagnosis. Post October 7, she was invited to present her Ph.D. research at an international conference in Rome. “Despite not being able to attend physically, due to my position in the Ministry of Defense, it was crucial for me to participate via Zoom,” she said. “As the only presenter from Israel, I wanted to emphasize our nation’s commitment to scientific contributions, even in challenging times.”

Blum credits the Technion for equipping her with the technical skills essential for success, “and for instilling in me the importance of breaking barriers.” In addition to her many career “firsts,” Blum founded the “AT” program (Hebrew for “you” feminine) to encourage high school female students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. “From a young age, I’ve always been working mostly with men, and I wanted to change that,” she said. “Our message is clear: ‘You can do it.’”

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Neta Blum
Neta Blum