KELOWNA - The mark of a good professor is one who is up to their elbows in research projects, has a strong group of post-grad students working with them, resonates with students, and is popular with their peers.
Professor Mina Hoorfar—UBC Okanagan’s Researcher of the Year—fits the bill exactly.
Hoorfar teaches in the School of Engineering and is the head of the Advanced Thermo-Fluidic Laboratory. Inside her lab are a number of on-going research projects, allowing students to work in multidisciplinary areas that cover the concepts of fluid mechanics, physical chemistry (liquid-surface interactions), biochemistry (cell deformation and separation), electrochemistry (fuel cells), advanced imaging (microCT), computational modelling, and fabrication of microstructures.
Along with fellow professors in the School of Engineering, Hoorfar has established a microfluidics group with the goal of developing portable devices for biomedical applications ranging from DNA purification from saliva, ketone detection from the breath of diabetes patients, tumour cells detection from the blood of cancer patients, and cell patterning on the digital microfluidic platforms for tissue engineering.
“Mina is not only an exceptional scientist but also a dedicated mentor and teacher,” says Rehan Sadiq, Professor and Associate Dean of the School of Engineering. “I have witnessed first-hand her strong commitment to the careers of her graduate students and lab members, always putting their advancement ahead of her own recognition.”
Hoorfar’s research record is laudable: more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles, 98 peer-reviewed conference proceedings and dozens of invitations to talk at conferences. She has supervised 18 undergraduates, seven master's students and nine PhD candidates, consistently providing them with the tools to achieve excellence in their engineering careers, says Sadiq.
“My research has been a conduit for my connection to industry and has allowed me to collaborate with world-renowned companies and post-secondary institutions,” says Hoorfar. “These opportunities have broadened my horizons and offer opportunities to my students now and into the future.”
Hoorfar has collaborated with a number of companies, including Ballard Power Systems, Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc, and Analog Devices Inc. She has also worked with a number of researchers of post-secondary institutions across the world, including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, U of T, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, and the American University of Sharjah.
She has earned a place on the Teaching Honour Roll several times, including the Pioneer Award for Teaching in 2007, the Mechanical Engineering Teacher of the Year Award in both 2012 and 2013, and in 2016 was named UBC’s winner of the junior faculty teaching excellence and innovation award.
It’s the strong teaching skills that appeal to her students, many who stood behind her nomination for the research award, says Seyed Mohammand Rezaei Niya. Niya, now at Stanford University, worked in Hoorfor’s lab as a teaching assistant while finishing his PhD at UBC’s Okanagan campus.
“I found her to be deeply passionate about her teaching and thoroughly dedicated to the learning process of her students,” he says. “She loves teaching and her passion always motivates the students to do their best in her courses.”
Each year, UBC Okanagan recognizes the top researchers on campus. Hoorfar joins the elite rankings of the top scientists in the Okanagan. She was presented with her award at a special ceremony March 11 at the campus.
At that event Evelyn Jensen was named the Graduate Student Researcher of the Year, and Cameron McDermid was named Undergraduate Student Researcher of the Year. Jensen, a biology PhD candidate in the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, researches evolutionary and conservation science while providing specific management strategies for endangered species. McDermid, an undergraduate researcher in the School of Engineering, is working on lab-on-a-chip microfluidic applications.
The awards were presented by Phil Barker, the vice-principal of research on the Okanagan campus.
“We are proud of the superb researchers who are working at UBC Okanagan and are especially pleased to honour Mina, Evelyn and Cameron as our 2016 researchers of the year,” says Barker. “Their inquiring minds, creativity, perseverance, and hard work have produced superb and intriguing world-class research that will have a significant and lasting impact.”