Viola Cohen



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Tell us about your doctorate and why your research is important. My research focuses on proposing novel transmission schemes for future mobile cellular networks. Access to high-quality communications services is vital in today’s internet-based ecosystem and despite recent developments in the Canadian communications sector, more than half of rural and remote Canadian households do not have the basic internet connectivity of 50/10 Mbps download/upload speeds. There is a clear gap between the quality of the communications services provided in rural and remote areas compared to those in urban ones. Under the supervision of Dr. Anas Chaaban, I realized we don’t just need an evolution in current communications technologies to keep up with the requirements of next-generation mobile networks. What we really need is a revolution in the design of mobile cellular networks. What are some challenges you’ve faced so far in your academic career? As an international student who came to Canada with his family, I faced cultural and language challenges as well as homesickness. But the School of Engineering and Dr. Chaaban have helped me overcome these issues. This encouraged me to be more connected with the local area and helped me feel more mentally stable. That’s why I always advise incoming international students to seek support and resources whenever they need help. UBC Okanagan provides many services and resources specifically designed to help international students transition to life in a new country and succeed in their studies. Do you have a mentor? If so, how have they influenced you?
Mahmoud Hasabelnaby pictured with his wife and son outside

Mahmoud Hasabelnaby with his wife Shrouk and their child Yaseen.

Dr. Chaaban is always available when I need him, and he encourages me to stay focused on my goals. He also always shares his knowledge and experience with me, helping me learn from his successes and mistakes. I’m also a mentee in the UBC Engineering Mentorship Program, which offers an outstanding opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with industry professionals while developing vital communication skills. This program helps me see the next steps I need to take to succeed in engineering. What’s the best advice you have for other students, whether they are undergraduate or graduate? Every student’s journey is unique, and it’s important to find what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try new approaches and adjust your strategy as needed. Setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them is also essential. This can help you stay focused and motivated on your academic and personal goals. You also have to stay engaged with your coursework—take part in class discussions, ask questions and seek extra resources or learning opportunities. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. This can be from professors, classmates, tutors or other supports. In the end, it is important to prioritize your physical and mental wellbeing. Get enough sleep, eat well, and find time to relax and recharge. What do you think makes UBCO unique? UBC Okanagan is home to several institutes and centres that enable students from all over the world to engage in hands-on research. This diverse environment adds to the campus’s vibrant and dynamic community, and provides students with the opportunity to learn from and interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds. What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now? I dream of starting up my own research and development company that provides advanced wireless and data science technologies for mobile devices, networks and services worldwide. I want to exploit the current revolution in machine learning and data sciences to design self-optimizing mobile networks that can provide high-quality communications services. Completing my doctorate in electrical engineering at UBC Okanagan is the first step toward achieving my dream. I know that to fulfill this, I must also gain strong experience in entrepreneurship and leadership. That’s why I joined entrepreneurship@UBCO, which provides training and mentorship to explore startup ideas, build connections and develop the skill set needed to launch a successful new venture. I have confidence that within 10 years, I’ll be able to do just that. The post Mahmoud Hasabelnaby is looking towards the future of mobile networks appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
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What is your PhD focus and why does it inspire you? I’m working on advanced additive manufacturing, with the goal of developing programmable 3D-printed aerogels that can be used for electromagnetic shielding, environmental protection, human motion monitoring and energy preservation. The inspiring part of my research is the ability of the developed systems to go beyond the boundaries of state-of-the-art materials science. We could reach exciting results that could be the key to solving a set of global challenges, like the ever-growing rate of 5G and 6G telecommunication systems, or crude oil pollution in oceans and streams. The aerogels framework we’re developing could mitigate the effect of hazardous electromagnetic waves on living creatures or sensitive electronic equipment by attenuating these waves. It could also serve as a potent oil absorber because of its porous structure, which can separate heavy oils from water sources. This porous structure also leads to the potential for thermal insulation capable of preserving heat and avoiding energy loss, which is crucial for energy-efficient infrastructure. What’s the best advice you have for other students? I can summarize this in three words: “Never give up.” Follow your dreams; your thoughts create your pathway, and you’ll become the person you see in your dream if you don’t forget those three words. Another thing that has been the key to my success is teamwork; change your attitude from “I” to “we” and work in a team. Remember, spring will not happen with one flower. Do you have a mentor? If so, how have they influenced you? I believe each person requires a source of inspiration; someone who can provoke your mind about life and science, and steer you toward the right path. I’ve been very lucky to learn from capable mentors who taught me how to survive in both the academic and real world. I should send regards and thanks to my kind mentors, from the very first one who I met seven years ago at a conference, to the one that always feeds my spirit with the lessons of life, and I count the seconds to meet him again.
A close up of a conductive plastic material balancing lightly on an orchid

The black ultra lightweight object resting lightly on the orchid is a flexible graphene aerogel. This conducts electricity and can even light up an LED, as seen in this photo.

What are some challenges you’ve faced so far in your academic career? Challenge is the beauty of academic and scientific work, and without these, life has no meaning. During my academic career, I faced many challenges, from living in a sanctioned and under-pressure nation to the global crisis that was COVID-19. However, despite these, I choose to fight, to stand up after each fall. These struggles strengthened me and motivated me to reach further in life. What do you hope to do after graduation? I have a beautiful dream in mind that I want to turn into reality. I want to become a university professor and mentor caring people who can transform the world into a more beautiful place. I want to help clean up the mess human beings have made on this lovely planet through new and practical ideas. I want to teach others how to think critically and how to observe their surroundings with a more detailed perspective. I also want to establish a technological company and bring advanced science into active use. What do you think makes UBCO great? Canada is the land of opportunities, and UBCO makes it even better for me. The university has an international and multidisciplinary nature, as well as advanced infrastructure and research facilities. There are knowledgeable and friendly faculty and staff, combined with the beautiful landscapes of the Okanagan Valley. UBCO is an inspiring place for minds to flourish with new ideas capable of addressing worldwide challenges. The post The beauty of academia is challenge, says Seyyed Alireza Hashemi appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
What is your PhD focus? Why did you choose this area of research? Materials-gas continuous interactions make a silent symphony around us. As a doctoral student, I’m deeply interested in exploring and discovering the impact of these interactions. I’m particularly focused on understanding the behaviour of materials when exposed to different gases, and how this information can be applied to fields such as medical technology, energy production and environmental protection. I use electromagnetic wave monitoring to investigate these interactions, which provides valuable insight into the behaviour of materials in different gas environments. What are some challenges you’ve faced so far in your academic career? Studying abroad gave me the grand challenge of acclimating to a new culture and language, all the while upholding my academic career. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its far-reaching ramifications, delayed experimental procedures and obstructed collaboration with my peers. Despite these challenges, I’ve learned to cultivate resilience and a proactive demeanour in the face of adversity. This experience fostered my personal growth and helped me hone my problem-solving abilities, cultivate adaptability in the face of change, and find independence in my research pursuits. These challenges have pushed me beyond my comfort zone, moulding me into a more well-rounded academic. What does work-life balance mean to you? Outside of school, I engage in a variety of activities that help me maintain a healthy work-life balance. I play soccer regularly, which helps me stay physically active and releases stress. I’m an avid reader and enjoy escaping into the world of books. Writing poetry has also become a passion of mine, since it allows me to express my thoughts and emotions creatively. These activities provide me with a much-needed break and help me recharge.
Hamed Mirzaei bending over some small electronics as he adjusts them

Hamed Mirzaei in the lab.

Do you have a mentor? If so, how have they influenced you? I’m truly grateful to have two highly dedicated supervisors: Dr. Mohammad Arjmand and Dr. Mohammad Zarifi, who have both profoundly changed my doctoral journey. Despite their demanding schedules, they have sacrificed their time to give me guidance, support and mentorship. I’m thankful for their tireless dedication and the opportunity to connect with my supervisors outside of the university, skiing and playing soccer together. This shared experience not only deepened our relationship but also taught me valuable lessons about life as an academic and the importance of balancing work and play. What do you think makes UBCO great? UBC stands out as a unique university that offers a genuinely meaningful student experience. With its stunning locations in Vancouver and Kelowna, world-class research facilities and faculty, global outlook, commitment to sustainability, and a focus on student engagement and leadership, the university provides a dynamic and diverse environment for learning and discovery. Students have the opportunity to explore new ideas, solve complex problems and develop skills that will serve them well throughout their careers. With a culture of collaboration that encourages innovation, this is an exceptional place to study, research and grow. What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now? As a proud graduate of the prestigious University of British Columbia, I’ve set ambitious goals; I see myself as a highly regarded and influential figure in the academic world and I aim to make meaningful contributions by sharing my passion for learning and discovery with students and peers alike. I’m driven to pay back the community and positively change the lives of those around me, inspiring people to reach their full potential. The post Hamed Mirzaei is exploring the silent symphony of materials-gas interactions appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
Tell us a little bit about your research. Why is it important?
Akanksha Bhurtel standing in front of a national park sign in Thailand

Akanksha Bhurtel at Khao Yai National Park in Thailand.

Climate change is one of the most significant challenges experienced throughout the world. The 2021 heat wave and wildfires in British Columbia are examples of some of the adverse effects of climate change. One of the significant reasons for climate change is carbon emissions, which the construction industry is not immune to contributing. The production of cement accounts for almost five per cent of the total global carbon footprint. An environmentally friendly alternative to cement is required. Several alternatives have already been adopted, including coal fly ash, rice husk ash, fibres, biopolymers and bacteria. But it isn’t enough to have seismic resistance in structures—the soil and foundation need to be strong as well. My current research is related to creating an environmentally sustainable biocomposite material using a fungus (mould) and wood fly ash to improve the strength properties of weak soils. Some of the bacteria and fungi generate enzymes that can help in the cementation of concrete and soils. I study the cementation induced by a fungus and how it might strengthen extremely vulnerable organic soils, which occupy about 18 per cent of the total Canadian landmass. Such soils are poor in strength and have high settlement behaviour. What inspires you about your work? I’m fascinated by mathematics, physics and engineering. Engineering research allows me to create problems, explore and then solve these problems in the best way possible. The interdisciplinary research I’m currently pursuing has also given me a chance to study other fields like biology. This is unique to my area and broadens my knowledge and skills so that I can apply them to the field of engineering. What are some challenges you’ve faced in your academic career so far? The greatest challenge for me was communication and cultural barriers. I’ve studied in Thailand and Canada, so I have challenges expressing myself sometimes. Initially, it was hard for me to communicate. But, moving from one country to another has taught me that accents aren’t that important, as long as we can communicate well. I try to be confident and express my ideas to people. Nepal, where I come from, also has a distinct cultural background compared to the countries I’ve studied and researched. I’ve found every country has their own set of cultural formulations, whether it’s Nepal, Thailand or Canada. I love meeting new people with different cultures and ideas. I try my best to learn, follow and enjoy the culture I’m in.
Akanksha Bhurtel in front of a railway bridge

Bhurtel at a section of the Burma Railway on the River Kwai, also known as the Death Railway, in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

Why did you want to study in Canada and get a PhD? During my time as a civil engineer for earthquake reconstruction projects in Nepal, I found that seismic resistance in structures often isn’t enough to withstand an earthquake. The strength of the soil and foundation on which the structure rests is also important for the stability of structures. Likewise, each year during rainy season, landslides cause huge destruction in Nepal’s rural areas, resulting in many human and physical losses. The lack of geotechnical experts in Nepal led me to an education in this field. Living and getting an education in one of the least developed countries in the world—with very little exposure to research—I felt the need to search internationally. A scholarship led me to Thailand, where my research focused on strengthening tropical climatic soil. Due to the availability of advanced technologies, the research there helped broaden my skills related to geotechnical engineering. Since Nepal has many mountainous regions, my tropical soil research wasn’t enough for me to work as a geotechnical expert there. That’s when I decided to continue my doctoral studies in a country with geographical similarities to Nepal. Canada, a country lying in a mountainous area, was my first choice. And I’ve always been fascinated by Canada’s high academic standards and abundant research opportunities. Coming to UBCO and working as a research assistant with Dr. Sumi Siddiqua on soil improvement has been a great opportunity and an excellent pathway for me to chase my passions in this field. And pursuing a doctorate at UBCO, one of the best universities, has provided me with opportunities to interact and share with civil engineering practitioners from all over the world. The post Akanksha Bhurtel’s homeland of Nepal inspired her engineering studies appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
What is your PhD focus? What inspires you about this subject? As a doctoral student, I’m dedicated to studying metallic corrosion. This widespread phenomenon has posed a persistent threat to the structural stability of materials since the advent of human civilization, resulting in a staggering annual cost of over $5 trillion globally. In addition to its economic impact, corrosion has led to many structural failures that have resulted in serious consequences for human health, safety and the environment. Defining the costs associated with corrosion-related concerns is often challenging. That’s why it’s essential to take proactive corrosion measures to ensure safety and minimize environmental pollution. My research focuses on creating cutting-edge nanomaterials with a dual objective of reducing corrosion rates and enabling non-destructive corrosion monitoring. By leveraging my expertise in the field, I aim to address the corrosion problem, improve the durability and longevity of metallic materials, and benefit a variety of industries and communities. I’m deeply passionate about leaving a lasting impact on society and the environment. What excites me about my area of study is its potential to conserve our planet by preserving valuable metals and reducing corrosion inhibitors that also pollute. By combining education and action, we can preserve the health and wellbeing of our planet for future generations. Is there a professor or staff member at UBCO who has positively impacted you? One year ago, I embarked on a journey to Canada, marking my first time in an English-speaking environment and away from the comfort of my family and homeland. The change was challenging at first; I felt like a stranger in a strange land. However, my supervisor, Dr. Mohammad Arjmand, showed me that with hard work and determination, nothing is impossible. He challenged me to broaden my horizons and think beyond my limitations, and I’m grateful for his guidance and support.
Parisa Najmi holding a wire that can be 3d printed

Parisa Najmi in Dr. Arjmand’s lab.

How do you balance school and home life? I’m a dedicated scholar. I devote a substantial amount of my time to my academic pursuits. But I don’t neglect the other things that are important to me. Besides my academic commitments, I play in the Kelowna Women’s Basketball League, as well as the intramural leagues offered by UBCO. I also go to the gym four times a week to maintain physical fitness. These activities serve as a wonderful reprieve from the demands of my studies, allowing me to recharge and continue my work with renewed energy and focus. What do you think makes UBCO great? UBC is recognized globally for its top-notch faculty members and cutting-edge research infrastructure. I’m in an ideal environment for my research, finding a balance of intellectual stimulation and practical application. Our laboratory work is directed towards creating impactful, industrially relevant solutions, which demonstrate the applicability of our research to real-world problems. What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now? From a young age, I always dreamed of becoming a scientist. My passion for knowledge drives me towards becoming a highly regarded professor, where I can impart my expertise to future generations. I’m fully committed to this vision, and within the next decade I aim to be among the leading lights in my field. I’m confident I’ll have a lasting influence. The post Parisa Najmi aims to preserve Earth’s health and wellbeing appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
What is your PhD focus? Why is this area of study important? Public infrastructure is critical to citizens’ health, safety and economic prosperity. According to Canada’s 2016 national infrastructure report card, a large portion of wastewater infrastructure is in poor to very poor condition, requiring a replacement cost of more than $26 billion. A similar pattern can be seen in wastewater pipe condition grades in the United States. Risk-based infrastructure management is required to assess conditions and assist decision-makers in prioritizing inspection, renewal or repair. This is where my expertise comes into play: I develop decision-support tools for managing municipal infrastructure and reducing risk associated with oil and gas pipelines. My father had a significant influence on my interest in civil engineering, particularly in the field of infrastructure asset management. At a young age, he used to take me almost every week to the eastern escarpment of my home country, Eritrea, to see the century-old railway system. The discussion we had was eye-opening and inspired me to focus on maintaining infrastructures so that it lasts. What’s the best advice you have for other students, whether they are undergraduate, graduate or doctoral? My advice to undergraduate students is to devote time to reading and understanding the program in which they’re enrolled. This is the best time to learn new skills and expand knowledge. It serves as the basis for future studies, so lay the foundation carefully from the start Graduate students should begin working on projects that they are passionate about. When choosing a supervisor, conduct a thorough investigation. You will enjoy your graduate years and learn a lot more if you work with someone knowledgeable and passionate about the same topic as you. My final piece of advice for undergraduates and graduates is to balance your personal and professional lives. Life is more than just school. Do you have a mentor? If so, how have they influenced you?
Haile Woldesellasse holding a hat, with a green mountain in the background

Haile Woldesellasse in his home country of Eritrea.

My parents and siblings are my immediate mentors in my life. My mom, with her wisdom and constant support, encouraged me to stay focused on my objectives when the road seemed tough and impossible. My dad is a giant beacon who has given me guidance from his experiences and always recommends books that have benefitted me at different stages of my life. I also have close friends who advise me on many aspects of life. My supervisor, Dr. Solomon Tesfamariam, has also been an excellent mentor throughout my doctoral studies. From the beginning, he has been a driving force in my research. His work ethic, critical thinking and attention to detail all had a significant influence on my technical and research skills. Above all, he gave me opportunities to grow as a researcher. What are some challenges you’ve faced so far in your academic career? Earning a doctorate is a commitment that requires a significant amount of time and energy. This becomes more difficult during the winter, when you don’t get enough sunlight and your activities are limited in many ways. It was also difficult not having my family with me. How do you balance school and home life? Even though the majority of my time is taken up by work on my research or publishing, I try to find some balance between school and home life. Tennis is one of my favourite sports and I have been playing since I was young. Last year I joined the UBCO Tennis Club and play on the weekends. I also go for hikes, read philosophical books and above all I enjoy spending quality time with my family and friends. What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?  I see myself with enough work experience to give back or transfer my knowledge to young researchers who are interested in pursuing their ideas. I also want to use my engineering background to help develop sustainable infrastructure that will benefit society. What do you think makes UBCO great? First, UBCO has a reputation as being one of the top-ranked best universities in Canada. The community is very connected, and Kelowna is becoming popular among families and young professionals. The university provides a high-quality education and access to cutting-edge research, not to mention the beautiful outdoor areas and scenery of the Okanagan. The post Haile Woldesellasse wants to give back in many ways appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
What is your PhD focus, and why did you choose this area of research? My doctorate focuses on developing a method to counteract atmospheric turbulence for ground-to-satellite communication links. This will help improve the way we send data from the ground to satellites in space. I chose this area of research after being exposed to it at the Integrated Optics Laboratory at UBCO, and through an internship at the German Aerospace Center. I want to understand the challenges we face and create innovative solutions that come into play during the development of new technologies that help and connect humanity worldwide. What are some challenges you’ve faced so far in your academic career? The fear of failure. It might seem simple, but getting a question wrong, misunderstanding a technical concept, or trying something new is part of learning. If everyone already had the answers, there wouldn’t be any problems left to solve in life and most of today’s jobs would be obsolete. Failing can be an important part of learning and the best thing to do in this scenario is reflect on the experience and decide how you’re going to achieve said goal. Just because you don’t succeed the first time doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. In my opinion, the way one works through failure shows more about that person than if they seem to be perfect from the outside.
A giant communications dish. Ilija is standing at the bottom of the dish and is barely visible, showing the immense size of the dish

Ilija Hristovski stands at the base of a communications dish at the German Aerospace Centre, illustrating the dish’s impressive size. This particular dish is used for deep space communication.

Do you have a mentor? If so, how have they influenced you? I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter many individuals who I would consider mentors throughout my life so far: Dr. Jonathan Holzman, Dr. Jannik Eikenaar and Dr. Richard Federley. Dr. Holzman exposed me to undergraduate research and showed me the benefits, excitement and real-world influence that research can have on communities locally and globally. Dr. Eikenaar greatly influenced my interpersonal skills, showing me how to view events of merit or conflict from multiple different viewpoints. Dr. Federley taught me that achieving seemingly impossible dreams is actually possible; sticking to one’s values and having a positive mindset can make a huge difference when trying to reach a goal.  What’s the best advice you have for other students? First, never be afraid of asking questions. As students, our job is to learn and it’s unreasonable to think or expect that someone should know everything about a topic. Asking questions and genuinely trying to understand concepts not only helps you learn it but also leads to opportunities in life that would never present themselves if those questions were never asked. Second, be bold, dream big, and don’t be afraid to fail. Many of the great advances that led to the technologies used today have stemmed from an individual or team with a big (and sometimes seemingly impossible) dream. While incremental advances in any field can be made, so too can colossal ones, especially in today’s world, so the sky is NOT the limit. Finally, always remember that if you’re truly passionate about something, you’ll find success in it. If you spend your time on something you truly love, more often than not, you’ll achieve the goal you’ve set, advance the field, or develop a meaningful solution, all the while feeling like the task being completed is less like work and more like fun. What do you think makes UBCO unique? The first thought that comes to mind is the accessibility of UBCO’s talented professors and instructors. Throughout my academic life, I’ve always appreciated the open-door policy that most professors have; specifically, the ability to seek help with complicated technical concepts while also getting to know the professors on a more personal level. Another factor that makes UBCO unique is the emphasis on undergraduate research and the encouragement students receive to get involved in technical projects through coursework or clubs.
Ilija Hristovski and former Canadian astronaut Dr. Robert Thirsk

Ilija Hristovski and former Canadian astronaut Dr. Robert Thirsk.

What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now? I want to pursue my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut and going to space. This trajectory has allowed me to learn a lot about myself and encouraged me to seek out new experiences, like considering completing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or pursuing international research in free-space optical communications. Through these experiences, I also developed a passion for the fields of photonics and laser communications, and this opened up a wide array of possibilities for what I can pursue in the future. I intend to apply during Canada’s next call for astronauts and pursue my dream of going to space. If I’m lucky enough to be selected by the Canadian Space Agency, I see myself helping humanity explore our solar system so we can solve some of our most challenging problems back here on Earth. If I’m not selected for the next call, I’ll continue to pursue my passion for photonics and laser communications applied to space and help humanity solve pressing issues of our time, like climate change, worldwide injustice or energy security. The post Ilija Hristovski is reaching for the stars appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.