U of A mourns victims of Flight PS752
These are the members of our campus community who lost their lives this week.
By UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA STAFF
Ten members of the University of Alberta community and three members of their families were among the 176 people killed when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 crashed last Wednesday a few minutes after takeoff from Tehran International Airport. They were professors and students, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. Some were accomplished researchers; some were just embarking on promising careers. All will be mourned and missed. These are their faces and names.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, Jan. 12, from 3–5 p.m. at the Saville Community Sports Centre (11610 65 Avenue NW) on the U of A’s south campus.
Engineering professors Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand were married with two daughters, all of whom perished on the flight.
Mousavi was with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and held the NSERC-AI Industrial Research Chair in Intelligent Integrated Sensors and Antennas.
His mission was to commercialize research, establish strong connections between industries and universities, and stimulate industry-relevant research in wireless technologies. He built and led several professional teams at universities and startup companies. He also supervised 26 graduate students and 10 post-doctoral fellows during his time at the U of A, leaving behind a legacy of hard work, kindness, teaching and empowerment of people.
An internationally recognized scholar, Daneshmand was appointed as a Canada Research Chair in Radio Frequency Microsystems when she joined the U of A’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2008.
Celebrated locally with the awarding of the U of A’s Martha Cook Piper Research Prize in 2018, she earned a global reputation for her research expertise and national recognition for her commitment to mentoring and supporting women in science and engineering.
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Pouneh Gorji and Arash Pourzarabi had travelled home to Iran to get married on New Year’s day. It was a big wedding attended by friends and family.
They are being remembered by their fellow students and mentors as optimists, always with smiles on their faces. The couple came to the U of A together in the fall of 2017, following the completion of their bachelor’s degrees from Sharif University of Technology in Iran. They were pursuing master’s degrees in artificial intelligence at the U of A.
Gorji focused on disease prediction from ultrasound images of the liver; Pourzarabi focused on furthering advancements in reinforcement learning.
“A big heart. That’s Pouneh,” said her co-supervisor Pierre Boulanger. “She was working on the applications of advanced neural networks for the automatic detection of fatty livers from ultrasound images. Before she left for her wedding in Iran, she made great progress and was ready to publish her work in top academic journals. She had a promising career in science ahead of her.”
Boulanger plans to posthumously publish Gorji’s work in her name so it can live on and inspire further research in the field. Her work tackling medical challenges might also improve lives in the future, said Russ Greiner, who also co-supervised her.
Pourzarabi dedicated himself to advancing the scientific community through research in reinforcement learning, a subset of artificial intelligence that focuses on computer systems learning to accomplish tasks entirely on their own.
It was Pourzarabi’s passion that his supervisor, Michael Bowling, remembers.
“We were beginning to discuss writing up his very interesting, and in some places unexpected, results. I am hoping we can still do that: that Arash’s preliminary work could be made available to inspire other researchers; that his insight, discoveries and hard work will still be part of the slow buildup of scientific understanding.
“He had a big, bright smile that couldn’t be hidden behind his beard. He was so excited about contributing to the scientific field.”
Sara Saadat and Saba Saadat were sisters who were coming back from Iran with their mother, Shekoufeh Choupannejad, a gynecologist who practised in Edmonton.
After graduating last spring from the U of A with a science degree in psychology, Sara Saadat, 23, had moved from Edmonton to San Diego to start a clinical psychology program at Alliant International University.
Sara’s strong work ethic shone during her studies at the U of A, said psychology professor Peter Dixon, who supervised her undergrad research project. She showed a keen interest in research and an attitude that promised a successful career in graduate school and beyond, he said.
Friends say Sara’s decision to pursue a career in clinical psychology fit her to a T, given her ability to listen to problems and then come up with brilliant solutions.
“If you had problems and you thought nobody else would understand, she would make you feel warm and that everything is going to be OK,” said Sirous Ghafuri, a fourth-year psychology student at the U of A.
To everyone who knew her sister Saba Saadat, it was clear she was destined for great things.
The 21-year-old Iranian-Canadian was on track to graduate from the U of A this spring with a bachelor of science in biological sciences, and a larger goal of following in her mother’s footsteps to one day become a doctor.
A brilliant student, selfless volunteer and compassionate friend, Saba left her mark on all she touched.
“She was like a little light,” remembered Meghan Riddell, a research supervisor at the U of A and friend to Saba who saw a spark of brilliance in the young woman. “She was a PhD disguised as an undergraduate. She was completely exceptional.”
Aside from her intellectual brilliance, Riddell said it was Saba’s capacity for empathy and kindness that will stick with her—a way of bringing others together and lifting them up.
It was a talent she shared freely, both at the university and outside of it. Saba was an active volunteer who devoted her free time to causes close to her heart.
“She was driven, but at the same time she was this absolutely caring person and had this incredibly rich life outside of academics,” said Denise Hemmings, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology who, along with Luke Eckersley, co-supervised Saba as a summer student in 2018.
“She had this smile that went from her mouth all the way up to her eyes and it never left,” added Hemmings. “She had that all the time. That's the picture that I'll always remember of Saba.”
Amir Hossein Saeedinia completed his BSc in mechanical engineering at the Petroleum University of Technology in Iran in September 2017, and his MSc in biomedical engineering at Amirkabir University of Technology in Iran. He was to start his PhD in mechanical engineering at the U of A this month.
Amir worked on finite element modelling of the material behaviour of coatings. Those who knew him say he had a big smile, a bright mind for science and an enthusiasm for research and discovery.
Nasim Rahmanifar received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering from Amirkabir University of Technology, Iran, in 2017 and 2019. She started a master’s program in mechanical engineering at the U of A in 2019 and was offered to transfer to a PhD program in 2020.
Nasim’s research focused on in-field assessment of the risk of pressure injury and repetitive strain injury of the shoulder in wheelchair users. Her academic performance throughout her studies in Iran and Canada was exceptional, with a full-mark GPA.
Her supervisors and fellow graduate students say they will remember her as a talented and hard-working student, and a dedicated and kind team member.
Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi (‘17 MSc mechanical engineering) was one of the top undergraduate students at Sharif University of Technology in Iran. He came to the U of A and earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2017.
He described his former student as a “hard-working and creative engineer,” a description Elyasi’s friend Sen Wang, a PhD student in engineering who did part of his master's with Elyasi, agrees with.
“I think when you say creative, it’s almost like when you do an experiment,” he said. “We run into all different problems and Mohammad would always come up with some method to solve them.”
Being helpful was important to Elyasi. He helped teach English to refugees and he listed the U of A’s Student Volunteer Campus Community language lab among his volunteer activities. He moved to Toronto to work as an engineer after graduation and about a year ago, he co-founded a startup called ID Green, which aims to use drones in an innovative crop monitoring service for potato farmers.
“He was a motivated person. He was really special. He was one of a kind.”
Elnaz Nabiyi was a PhD student in the Department of Accounting, Operations and Information Systems in the Alberta School of Business. After graduating with a master's degree from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, she moved to Canada with her husband, Javad Soleimani Meimandi, less than two years ago so they could both pursue PhD studies at the U of A.
In a recent CBC interview, Soleimani Meimandi described Elnaz as “a really smart person, a nice person, and talented," and said she cared deeply about the struggles of the Iranian people.