A storied past leads to a bright future - Ali Tavallaei, PhD Candidate

Growing up in the middle of the war in Iran with helicopters crashing outside of his front door and bullets scattering his play areas, PhD student Ali Tavallaei said that he learned at a very young age never to take anything for granted.

“I certainly do have a different background.  When I was growing up I experienced wars and I was playing with bullets when I was a kid,” he said. “It makes you value things in a different way.”

It is this experience that has encouraged him to put 100 per cent effort into everything he undertakes.  When Tavallaei came to Canada in 2009, he had a dream to work at Robarts.  Now, with two patents filed, a paper published and a start-up company already under his belt, it is clear that he is just getting started in what is sure to be a very successful career in biomedical engineering.

Tavallaei’s research in Maria Drangova’s lab at Robarts Research Institute involves designing and fabricating robots for image-guided surgery that can function within the bore of an MRI.  The challenge is not only to design a machine that is MRI compatible, but will also fit comfortably within the small confines of the bore.  He already has patents pending related to the technology for MRI guided catheterization and has recently launched the first product through his start-up company, Vital Biomedical Technologies.

“It is one thing to make a system and write a paper on it and have it work once, but it is something completely different to actually make it robust enough that a hundred users can use it and still get the same consistent results,” said Tavallaei.

It has taken Tavallaei the better part of two years to get his company off the ground, but he is excited about the possibilities.

“It’s a risky thing to start your own company, but I certainly learned a huge amount,” he said, crediting much of his business-savvy and his passion for academia to his parents. His mother was active in the real estate market in Iran and also helped her husband establish an English-language centre. His father, a retired university professor, earned his PhD when he was in his 40s. “From my dad’s side I got the importance and value of academia, and from my mom I got the confidence to start my own business,” said Tavallaei.

And while he says the hardest thing about studying in Canada is being so far away from his family, he hopes to, in some way, bring what he’s learned back home.

“I hope to stay in Canada, but I would like to collaborate with my colleagues in Iran. The world is such a small place now. Anything is possible.”