A warm welcome to our two newest Assistant Professors who joined ChemE this month: Seyed Mohamad Moosavi and Nicole Weckman.
Moosavi is a Principal Investigator for AI4ChemS group and Faculty Affiliate at the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Focusing on energy and porous materials, his work involves using machine learning, artificial intelligence, and molecular simulation to advance research in autonomous multi-scale materials design and discovery, with applications in gas separation, catalysis, energy storage, and carbon capture.
Weckman, who is cross-appointed between ChemE and the Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education and Practice (ISTEP), is the first Paul Cadario Chair in Global Engineering. Her research group develops sensitive and quantitative biological and biochemical sensors at the interface of cell-free synthetic biology and microscale and nanoscale sensing systems. They focus on engineering design for clinical and commercial translation, with a particular emphasis on how these sensors can be used to improve global health and protect our environment.
With their expertise in their respective fields, Moosavi and Weckman will help further strengthen our ability to grow world leaders who aspire to make a positive difference by driving solutions to pressing global challenges. They were kind enough to answer a few introductory questions and share some advice for new students.
Why did you choose U of T?
Moosavi: U of T is an excellent place for my interdisciplinary research on AI for sciences. I see enormous potential in using AI in chemical engineering and applied chemistry to accelerate the design and discovery of functional materials for sustainability applications. Working at the intersection of ChemE at U of T, Acceleration Consortium, and Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence is an exceptional opportunity to bring all the required disciplines together to perform ambitious and impactful research. I should add that the city of Toronto is vibrant, diverse, and inclusive, which are critically important to me.
Weckman: U of T Engineering has an incredible reputation and I am very excited about the opportunity to work with so many fantastic colleagues and students here. My research designs new biosensors at the interface between synthetic biology and micro/nano sensing systems. U of T is the perfect fit because of its research expertise in these areas both within Engineering and also at associated Institutes. I am particularly interested in inventing and commercializing improved biosensors that make our healthcare system more equitable, efficient, and effective. University of Toronto is perfect for this translational engineering research because of its thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and proximity and connections to world-class clinical researchers.
As a professor, what advice do you have for your new students?
Moosavi: There are some general guidelines like you need to find your passion, keep learning, develop a vision, take initiative, follow your dreams, and don’t give up too soon. I feel among these, the importance of taking initiative is often underestimated. Academic research is rather self-regulatory and great researchers are the ones who take ownership of their projects and push them forward autonomously. Don’t wait long for others and your PI and “always try to do useful things.” The reality is that nothing is easy in research. There are many more failures than successes. But as long as you keep trying (not necessarily the same way), you will get there. In addition, don’t forget you are a human being. Besides your professional growth, pay attention to your personal growth, and be kind to yourself and others.
Weckman: A couple of things spring to mind, but I think that the best advice often depends on context. For example – never be afraid to ask for help – everyone needs help at some point and often we stay stuck for too long because we are afraid to ask for help. Then – embrace challenges and a growth mindset – trying something new can be intimidating but very often opens the door to opportunity. We may not succeed at every challenge but the experience is so valuable if we are open to feedback and learning. When all else fails, get some exercise and good sleep. Sleep is extremely critical for our biology.
What do you hope to accomplish during your time at U of T Engineering?
Moosavi: I hope our research makes an impactful contribution to solving our global sustainability challenges. We are facing multiple humanitarian and environmental crises, and in times of crisis, I believe science is the key to guiding us in the right direction. I hope we can be part of such big solutions.
Weckman: As a member of the Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN), I am looking forward to the opportunity to build global collaborations to develop technologies that can create a positive impact in the world and contribute to accomplishing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I plan to invent better diagnostics that improve access to, and quality of, healthcare in our own communities and around the world. At the same time, I hope to develop new more general sensing technologies that enable us to collect new data to broaden our understanding of our world.
What are you most looking forward to in your new position?
Moosavi: I particularly enjoy mentoring young, talented minds. I am looking forward to establishing my group to be engaged with motivated students to solve complex problems together and to provide them with the environment they need to grow professionally.
Weckman: I am looking forward to all the fantastic people – faculty, staff, and students – who I will get to meet and work with! I am very excited to meet new collaborators and work together to explore new areas of research and train the next generation of students through my teaching and mentoring. I feel lucky to be part of such an accomplished and welcoming community!
How have your global experiences shaped you as a teacher? What has been most rewarding about having these global experiences, personally and professionally?
Moosavi: I am privileged to have a personal and professional life trajectory that includes living in several countries (namely, Iran, Switzerland, the United States, Germany, and Canada) with sometimes very different cultures, histories, and perceptions of social norms and values, and working in five research groups, which had their own distinct working culture. I will put the lessons learned from these observations and experiences into action to shape a positive and inclusive research and teaching environment. Personally, the most rewarding aspect is to have become a more understanding, compassionate person, and expand my horizon to think globally about problems.
Weckman: One of the most significant impacts that global experiences have had for me is the exposure to completely different viewpoints, approaches, and ways of doing things. Exposure to this diversity of thought is incredibly valuable. I think we have so much to learn from each other and we need to embrace that diversity in order to tackle some of the huge issues the world is facing. Global experiences also often push us out of our comfort zone – this is where there is the highest potential for learning and growth if you embrace it.
What is something most people might not know about you?
Moosavi: Hmm, I guess a lot because I am new here! But I can say that I am a decent volleyball player! I hope I can find time to get back to that after I settle down in Toronto.
Weckman: I was Captain of the Varsity Women’s Rugby Team at the University of Cambridge during my PhD. We defeated our arch-rivals from Oxford 52-0 in the first Women’s Varsity Match that was ever held at Twickenham Stadium, which is the prestigious 82,000 seat home of English Rugby. Somewhat controversially, I think that rugby is a more interesting sport than both soccer and football. True to my Canadian roots though, I still love hockey most of all. Regardless of the sport, I believe that playing sport is an excellent way of building leadership and teamwork skills, in addition to being great for mental and physical health.