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Nurturing the passion for research - Interviewing Associate Professor Ali Tehrani

This is an interview with Associate professor Ali Tehrani, who works at Aalto University's School of Chemical Engineering Bioproducts and Biosystems Department. He has an impressive background in textile research before joining Aalto and he also enjoys guiding and supporting his students in their research and career.
Associate Professor Ali Tehrani standing in front of blooming trees.
Associate Professor Ali Tehrani in Beirut-Lebanon. Picture taken towards the Mediterranean see when Poinciana trees are blooming in the background.

What do you research and why?

I have a background in both textile chemical engineering and applied surface chemistry. Most of my research projects are concentrated on the textile chemistry, novel surfactants, applied polymer and electrospun nanofibrous membranes. 

I am fascinated by the world of applied materials science to enhance the properties of materials for various applications. The research projects in the domain of applied materials science are often challenging, especially when the goal is to produce highly added-value products that are environmentally friendly, sustainable and cost-effective.

How did you become a researcher?

My enthusiasm towards research grew stronger during my graduate studies.  My first PhD project was focused on the synthesis and characterization of novel cationic gemini surfactants with higher efficiency and performance for the textile dyeing process. I was inspired by the research works of both Prof. Fred Menger and Prof. Krister Holmberg on novel surfactants. Their guidance and mentorship played a significant role in shaping my research identity and enabled me to gain expertise on surfactant chemistry and organic synthesis on top of my textile chemistry knowledge. After receiving my PhD from Tehran polytechnic, I joined the Institute for Color Science & Technology as a research scientist and worked on various research projects related to textile wastewater treatment. This period (2007–2010) enhanced my knowledge about the environmental impact of textile industries and strategies for mitigating the problems.

I pursued my second PhD in the division of applied surface chemistry at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and worked in the research group of Prof. Holmberg.  Considering the high level of environmental awareness in Europe, my second PhD was focused on the synthesis of cleavable surfactants that degrade quickly after use under ambient conditions for safeguarding the environment. My transformation into a researcher was rewarded by the prestigious Akzo Nobel Nordic prize in the field of surface and colloidal science in August 2013.

What have been the highlights of your career?

There are certain achievements that a scientist can list from his CV, including grants, awards, number of supervised students and promotions.  Joining Aalto is certainly one of my important career transitions. However, the highlights of my career include my former students’ achievements.  I do my best to turn my students into passionate and motivated researchers with a high level of integrity, commitment, cooperation, responsibility and accountability. When I receive an email or a telephone call from them telling me that they have achieved an award or prize or have gotten an exceptional position, it makes me overjoyed. It is a good feeling to make a difference and positively impact somebody’s life.

What is required from a researcher?

There are several criteria that make a person a researcher, whether good, excellent or outstanding.  Researchers should be passionate, focused and persistent in following their research goals and learning new things.  Researchers should also be motivated and productive while balancing their personal and professional life. Being visionary and inspirational are also exceptional qualities in a researcher that can lead to a positive impact on society. 

What do you expect from the future?

In the future, I would like to see the positive impact of my teaching and research on enhancing people’s quality of life. As a teacher, I would like to see my students being inspired by my teaching and becoming critical thinkers.  As a researcher, I would like to see the results of my research in the world, enhancing the livability, sustainability and equity in the society.

 

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