Tamara Awerbuch-Friedlander

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Tamara Eugenia Awerbuch-Friedlander
Tamara Eugenia Awerbuch-Friedlander
Born Uruguay
Occupation Biomathematician, Public Health Researcher, professor
Residence Greater Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Nationality Israeli, Uruguayan
Citizenship United States
Alma mater
Period 20th and 21st centuries
Genre biomathematics, Biostatistics, statistics, public health, biomathematics, emergent diseases, Epidemiology, HIV/AIDS
Subject Biostatistics, statistics, public health, biomathematics, disease vectors, entomology
Literary movement Women's health, feminism, university women
Notable awards Fulbright Scholarship (mathematical epidemiology), Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award
Relatives Parents: Chaya Clara Goldman Friedlander and Michael Friedlander; Sons: Danny and Ari

Tamara Eugenia Awerbuch-Friedlander is a biomathematician and public health scientist at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. Her primary research and publications focus on biosocial interactions that cause or contribute to disease. She also is believed to be the first female Harvard Faculty member to have had a jury trial for a lawsuit filed against Harvard University for sex discrimination.[1][2][3] Currently,[when?] she is an instructor in the Department of Global Health and Population of the Harvard School of Public Health. Since the beginning of this century, she has organized and carried out research on conditions that lead to the emergence, maintenance, and spread of epidemics. Her research encompasses sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV/AIDS, as well as vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, dengue, and Zika virus and Zika fever. Awerbuch-Friedlander recently researched the spread and control of rabies based on an eco-historical analysis. Her work is interdisciplinary, and some of her publications are co-authored with international scientists and members of different departments of the HSPH and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ecology and evolutionary biology have traditionally been the dominant fields of mathematical biology, but public health fields are effectively contextualized within them. Conditions contributing to the emergence of epidemics are complex in nature, involving biological, ecological, behavioral, environmental, and socioeconomic factors. Most of her research mathematically models these factors as systems that lend themselves to qualitative and quantitative analysis. These models can be used to explore the effect of each factor in the presence of the others as well as new interventions. Many of these models are based on data collected in the field, whether they concern zoonotic diseases such as the population dynamics of the tick that transmits Lyme disease in the Northeastern part of the United States, or sexually transmitted diseases, such as the relative probabilities of HIV1 and HIV2 infection in a cohort of prostitutes in Senegal.

Some of her analytical mathematical models led to fundamental epidemiological discoveries, for example, that oscillations are an intrinsic property of tick dynamics. This means that a decrease in tick abundance in one year does not necessary imply that the same will happen in the next. She presented her work in many international conferences and at the Isaac Newton Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, England, where she was invited to participate in the Program on Models of Epidemics.

Early life[edit]

Tamara Awerbuch was born in Uruguay, lived until the age of 12 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then moved to Israel with her parents, where her grandparents and parents had lived after they had escaped Nazi Germany just before the Holocaust began. She studied and completed two degrees at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She studied chemistry and minored in biochemistry and completed the BSc degree in 1965. In 1967, she completed both the Master of Science (MSc) in Physiology and the Master of Education (MEd) degree from Hebrew University. She was certified to teach all grades, K–12, in Israel, where she lectures and appears on panels and in workshops, as she does also in the United States and elsewhere.

She also served for two years in the Israeli army.

In October 1973, while visiting friends in America, she was offered employment at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study chemical carcinogens in tissue cultures, then a recently developed technique. In Spring 1974, she began to study there for a PhD in the Department of Nutrition because, as an MIT employee, she could take one course free each semester, which she continued doing for three semesters. During this period, she worked in the lab studying carcinogenicity in tissue cultures, studied one course each semester, and lived very frugally, sharing a house with MIT junior Faculty and graduate students. Then, in Summer 1975, she matriculated as a full-time MIT student, where in 1979 she completed her doctorate in Nutrition and Food Science. She became a US citizen and has resided in the United States since that time. She enjoys her interesting life as an international research academic and travels often to South America and Israel. She was recruited in 1983 to the Biostatistics Department of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health by Department Chair Marvin Zelen. In 1993, she began a long career in the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Her two sons, Danny and Ari, who were born in the 1980s and were reared in Brookline, Massachusetts, regularly accompanied her international travels for lectures and teaching.



Awerbuch-Friedlander is a founding member of the New and Resurgent Disease Working Group.[4][5] Within this context, she was involved in organizing a conference in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on the emergence and resurgence of diseases, where she led the workshop on Mathematical Modeling. In addition, she established international collaborations, such as with Israeli scientists on emerging infectious diseases in the Middle East, with Cuban scientists on infectious diseases of plants and the development of general methodologies, and with Brazilian scientists on the development of concepts to guide effective surveillance. In the late nineties, Awerbuch-Friedlander was co-investigator in a project, "Why New and Resurgent Diseases Caught Public Health by Surprise and a Strategy to Prevent This" (supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). At Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Awerbuch-Friedlander co-chaired the committee on Bio- and Public Health Mathematics. Some of her research papers were the result of collaboration with students through the course Mathematical Models in Biology, which had large portions dedicated to infectious diseases. She is indeed interested in public health education and has developed for high school adolescents educational software based on models for determining risk that an individual with certain risky sexual behaviors actually would become infected with HIV. These models helped risk-prone youth, parents, educators, community health leaders, and public health researchers explore how changes in sexual behavior impact their probability of contracting HIV.

'The Truth is the Whole'

She also chaired the planning committee for the 85th birthday celebration of Richard Levins,[6] founder of the Human Ecology program in the Global Health and Population Department of the Harvard School of Public Health, a three-day conference with the Hegelian theme "The Truth is the Whole" held in mid-2015 at the Harvard School of Public Health, focusing on the manifold contributions in models of complexity theory and wholistic research from mathematical biologist Levins and his colleagues, students, and disciples, who broadly are interested in complex systems biology. She is currently co-editing "The Truth Is The Whole: The Scientific Legacy of Richard Levins",[7] with 18 chapters contributed by colleagues, former students, and scientific followers of Levins.

Sex-discrimination suit against Harvard[edit]

Although Theda Skocpol had alleged gender bias in denial of tenure as early as 1980,[8] Awerbuch-Friedlander is believed to be the first female Harvard Faculty member to file a lawsuit against Harvard University for sex discrimination.[3][9][10] The suit was "filed with the Middlesex County Superior Court in June 1997."[11] Encouraged by her mentors, Richard Levins and Marvin Zelen, Awerbuch-Friedlander sought "nearly $1 million in lost wages and benefits, as well as a promotion at the HSPH"[12] and argued "that Fineberg refused to promote her to a tenure-track position because she is a woman, despite the positive recommendation of the HSPH's selection committee of appointment and re-appointment (SCARP)."[12] Intermittently from 1998 through 2007, the gender discrimination case was covered by the Harvard Crimson (campus media), The Boston Globe (local media), and Science magazine (professional and scientific print media). Science documented the case developments of the sex-discrimination case in its "News of the Week: Women in Science" section.[13] and in Science's SCIENCESCOPE two months later.[14] Her sex discrimination lawsuit was based upon Harvard's denial of tenure to her, despite her significant accomplishments in her fields of expertise, biomathematics, epidemiology, biostatistics, and public health. The University argued that no tenure track positions were open in her new department, after she had been reassigned from one department to another.


Awerbuch-Friedlander is a specialist in emerging epidemics and has researched the life cycle of the deer tick. Based on her field studies in the 1990s, she argues that hunting the deer won’t effectively combat Lyme disease because ticks also depend on another key host animal: white-footed mice. Ticks do not actually contract Lyme disease from ambient deer, as is popularly believed; rather, ticks contract Lyme as larvae when they feed on infected mice. The sequence goes from white-footed mice to tick larvae feeding on mice. Adult female ticks require the deer both to lay their eggs and for food, but the deer do not become infected.

Awerbuch-Friedlander has written numerous research publications relevant to the public discourse concerning lyme disease as a rationale for deer hunting. She notes that mathematical modeling demonstrates that the deer are far less likely to be the disease reservoir than are mice.

Encore career at MIT[edit]

Awerbuch-Friedlander's doctoral work was done at MIT, where she has continued to maintain close research ties throughout her scientific career. She is preparing research to be conducted on their Cambridge campus.[citation needed]

Notable students of Tamara Awerbuch-Friedlander[edit]

  • Christl Donnelly - Christl Donnelli and Wendy Leisenring. Worked on comparison of transmission rates of HIV1 and HIV2 in a cohort of prostitutes in Senegal 1990-1991. Publication: Bulletin of Mathematical Biology 55:731-743, 1993.
  • Ivo M. Foppa. Mathematical models for the spread of zoonotic diseases. Spring 1996. Sr. Research Scientist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Influenza Division; Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.
  • Sandro Galea - Variability and vulnerability at the ecological level: Implications for understanding the social determinants of health. Spring 2000. Appeared in American Journal of Public Health, 92:1768-1772, 2002.


  1. ^ Harvard Catalyst Profile for Tamara Eugenia Awerbuch-Friedlander, PhD
  2. ^ AAUP 'Issues' page on Women in the Academic Profession, accessed 05/02/2013.
  3. ^ a b The American Association of University Women, Tenure Denied: Cases of Sex Discrimination in Academia. 2004.
  4. ^ Awerbuch-Friedlander, T., Levins, R., Mathematical Models of Public Health Policy, Mathematical Models, Volume III, EOLSS (Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems), Note: in Biographical Sketches, Accessed online 4/2/2014
  5. ^ Note 20 In "Health Impacts of Climate Change", Medical Journal of Australia, vol.163, 1995, pp. 570–574. By: Erwin Jackson, Climate Impacts Specialist, Greenpeace International, Accessed online 4/2/2014
  6. ^ Dr. Richard Levins 85th birthday symposium site
  7. ^ The Truth Is The Whole: The Scientific Legacy of Richard Levins
  8. ^ "A QUESTION OF SEX BIAS AT HARVARD". https://www.nytimes.com/. The New York Times. Retrieved 14 February 2017.  External link in |website= (help)
  9. ^ Awerbuch-Friedlander v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 449 Mass. 1105 (2007), Lawsuit filed in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 2001
  10. ^ AAUP 'Issues' page on Women in the Academic Profession, accessed 05/07/2013.
  11. ^ Resnick, S. A., SPH Lecturer Sues University For Gender Bias: Harvard denies allegations, says system fair to all, Harvard Crimson, June 3, 1998
  12. ^ a b McPherson, F.R., Fineberg Testifies in Discrimination Case, Harvard Crimson, March 14, 2001, Accessed online 04/02/2014
  13. ^ Lawler, A., Court to Hear Charges by Harvard Researcher, Science 23 February 2001: Vol. 291 no. 5508 p. 1466, DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5508.1466a
  14. ^ Lawler, A., Appealing Case, SCIENCESCOPE, Science 27 April 2001: 619

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