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National prize for interdisciplinary research goes to Concordia PhD student for his patient-centred focus

$10,000 awarded for departure from traditional engineering, instead focusing on ethical concerns and the client's health
May 1, 2018
PhD candidate Amir Hooshiar: "This recognition is very meaningful." | Photo by Martin Lipman/NSERC

From the moment Amir Hooshiar started preparing his Vanier scholarship application, he had a wish in mind: to win the NSERC Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research.

The $10,000 award is given to an outstanding recipient of a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship who best exemplifies interdisciplinary research. The prize is funded through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and will be presented during the NSERC Awards Ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa tonight.

Top Canadian researchers and innovators will receive their awards from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada.

A third-year PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering, Amir Hooshiar is the first Concordian to receive the award since its inception in 2012.

“This recognition is very meaningful because it changes the course of my professional career and sets the bar high for me,” he says.

“Being a Vanier scholar is a huge responsibility because you’re expected to advance knowledge to the next level. Being recognized as the top researcher in the field of engineering and computer science is another huge responsibility!”

Hooshiar’s research focuses on developing technology to make robot-assisted cardiac interventions safer and more reliable. He is working under the supervision of Javad Dargahi, professor in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering.

What makes Hooshiar’s work interdisciplinary is its departure from traditional engineering and consideration of patients' health and ethical concerns, he says. “It’s like the centre of it is the patient, unlike other engineering research, which is mostly device- or phenomenon-centred.”

Public scholar

Recently selected as one of Concordia’s 2018 public scholars, Hooshiar is looking forward to promoting public awareness about robotic surgery. He notes that these procedures are often depicted as science fiction by the mainstream media.

“Although they appreciate the advancements, it seems like the general public stills need more information to accept this technology," Hooshiar says.

Assuring the public of the technology’s safety is also paramount to Hooshiar’s aims as a public scholar. By doing this, he hopes robotic surgery will become more widely available and eventually lead to remote surgery and remote surgical skill transfer.

“Remote surgery will be very valuable to regions that are not very accessible for physicians, to patients who might have contagious viruses, or even to do remote training because it’s not possible for individuals from all over the world to come to North America to get trained,” Hooshiar says.

Since he was selected as a Vanier scholar, Hooshiar has noticed that his work has inspired many other researchers to pursue similar investigations.

“When I was talking about cardiac robotic surgery when I first joined Concordia, it was a bit weird and it didn’t ring a bell for people,” Hooshiar says. “Now, I see many individuals — some faculty members, even —  are readjusting the course of their work towards this field of interdisciplinary research.”

Students have also been getting in contact with him to ask for guidance with their scholarship applications and research. “I’m an international student and most of the students I talked to are, as well,” Hooshiar says.

“Many of them didn’t think an international student could become a Vanier scholar. They’re motivated now that they’ve seen somebody like them receive this scholarship. It’s a driving force for them. Equal chances for all individuals, regardless of ethnicity, is a social value and shouldn't be taken for granted.”

Learn more about research at Concordia.

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