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Grad student’s illuminating research yields reward

Simin Mehrabani creates an award-winning ultraviolet sensor

chemical engineer Simin Mehrabani in lab
Simin Mehrabani at work (Photo/courtesy of USC Viterbi)

For some students, summertime means relaxing on the beach and enjoying the warm weather. But one USC Viterbi School of Engineering graduate student is doing much more than just soaking up the sun.

Simin Mehrabani has created a reliable ultraviolet sensor that detects levels of UV radiation through various environmental conditions.

She is an amazing mentor to undergraduates and an exceptional teacher.

Andrea Armani

“Humans and our activities are changing the environment, and we need better and faster sensors to be able to monitor the environment and make sure nothing wrong is going to happen,” Mehrabani said.

Mehrabani created an ultraviolet sensor based on an ultra-high sensitivity sensor that detects UV radiation more accurately than ever before.

“There are different [environmental] factors like temperature, pressure, relative humidity and UV from the sun,” Mehrabani said. “We need to monitor them because of the influence that we have on the environment through things like industrial processes.”

What makes it tick?

Born in Iran, Mehrabani was interested from a young age in the way things work. She recalls conducting elementary level chemistry and physics experiments with her brother and father, an engineer in her home country.

“I was amazed at how things worked, like my bike,” said Mehrabani, who studied chemical engineering at the Iran University of Science & Technology.

Mehrabani, who earned her B.S. in 2008, moved to the United States with her husband in August 2009 and began her Ph.D. studies at USC Viterbi the following January. She is currently working on her thesis, which focuses on her work with the UV sensor she created.

The work was recently honored at the Materials Research Society conference in San Francisco, where she and her team received a Silver Award for research.

Simin Mehrabani accepts award

Simin Mehrabani accepts her Silver Award from the Materials Research Society. (Photo/courtesy of USC Viterbi)

Mehrabani credits her faculty adviser, USC Viterbi Professor Andrea Armani, for much of her success. Armani, who worked with her protégé on the UV sensor project, said Mehrabani exceeds all expectations.

“Simin is more than just a researcher,” Armani said. “She is also an amazing mentor to undergraduates and an exceptional teacher, giving freely of her time on weekends to tutor middle and high school students.”

An eye for detail

Audrey Harker, one of Mehrabani’s mentees, agrees. A graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, Harker worked with Mehrabani and Armani on the UV sensor project at USC Viterbi. She described Mehrabani as attentive to details, focused, hardworking and above all else, caring.

“What made Simin so great is that I knew, at the end of the day, she cared most about me as a person as opposed to a mentee, undergrad or co-worker. I have an undergrad working with me this summer, and I draw a lot of inspiration from Simin. ”

Mehrabani, who said she has enjoyed her time at USC, aims to establish a career in research and development.

“I’m really happy,” she said, “that I’ve been able to work in a field that I’m passionate about.”

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Grad student’s illuminating research yields reward

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