March 30th, 2020

By  Farbod Mahmoudinobar

 

As a kid I didn’t like to ask many questions.

I was told that scientists by nature like to ask a lot of questions.

Yet, I liked science.

Just because I didn’t like to ask many questions didn’t mean I wasn’t curious. Instead, I enjoyed problem solving independently. Asking questions is only one means to satisfy the curiosity of a scientific mind. Compared to being handed the answer, self-discovery requires a deeper understanding of the challenge. Like completing a puzzle, the enjoyment is in the problem solving process. Once solved, it becomes merely a memento of your achievement. My passion for learning originates here, I want to build towards the answers to my questions.

I have always been interested in the medical sciences. The specialized yet interdependent function of each organ is pretty amazing to me. I was curious to understand the mechanisms of a healthy body and the advancement of biotechnology to ameliorate so many medical conditions. My high school biology course may have sparked my interest in this field. By the end of high school I had developed a love for math, physics, and biology. To combine my broad scientific interests, I chose my first field, BioMedical Engineering (BME), at Amirkabir University of Tehran. BME is an amazing major which integrates my engineering problem solving skills with my interest in medical science with the goal of improving healthcare diagnostics and therapy. The courses I took covered a broad range of topics from Finite Elements Methods, Strength of Materials and Computer Programming, to Bioinstrumentation, Fluid Mechanics in Biological Systems and Tissue Mechanics. I gained hands-on research experience in a tissue engineering lab. I analyzed endothelial cell elasticity after cyclic stress loading to understand the cellular impact of high blood pressure and hypertension. I enjoyed using my skills to find the answers to problems.

 

The BME major and my research were so fascinating that I decided to continue my education with an advanced degree. I had realized one of shortcomings of my experimental research: I did not understand the inner workings of endothelial cells. I learned that biological functions are studied on the molecular level using molecular simulations. Not only could I learn more about proteins, I could also complement experimentation with these simulations. Thus, I applied to PhD programs in bio-related fields with a research focus on computer simulations. I skip a lot of things here, i.e., my travel to the US to continue my studies and its complications. I was admitted to the Biophysics (my second field) PhD program at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in the Fall of 2013. I joined the lab of Dr. Cristiano Dias in the Physics department. He was not only my research advisor, but also my mentor and teacher. Over the next six years, I learned numerous new subjects such as Quantum Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Statistical Mechanics and most importantly, atomistic simulations. I found that I am passionate about simulations and coding.  We conducted research on protein aggregation involved in diseases including Alzheimer’s and type-II diabetes using molecular dynamics simulations. I also gained experience mentoring undergraduate students as well as teaching undergraduate courses and labs. We published five papers as results of my PhD work which included answers to problems which could help many people.

 

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Me presenting my research as a part of my PhD at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

 

As my PhD was coming to an end, I had a clear path in front of me. I needed to learn new skills and gain more experience to broaden my horizons. That is the reason I started as a postdoctoral associate in the department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (my third field) at New York University. In my current role, I am co-advised by Dr. Jin Montclare at CBE and Dr. Richard Bonneau at Flatiron Institute and NYU. I work with many great scientists including Dr. Douglas Renfrew at Flatiron Institute to perform computational simulations on protein biomaterials with diagnostic and therapeutic properties.

 

I am glad that my academic life has worked out so well to this point. I consider myself very lucky. I traveled across the world and worked within different fields and departments with one simple goal: to answer some questions.