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UCL Mechanical Engineering
Faculty of Engineering Sciences


Shoulders of giants: Dr Mona Alimohammadi

Meet our People: Dr Mona Alimohammadi

Dr Mona Alimohammadi talks about mentoring and turning the science of catastrophic medical emergencies up a notch.

Shoulders of giants: Dr Mona Alimohammadi

Dr Mona Alimohammadi’s prize-winning PhD has been making waves in the academic world – winning the UK’s Best Medical Engineering PhD Prize and a place in Springer’s Best of the Best Theses.

However, Dr. Alimohammadi insists that she couldn’t have done it without the supervision of Dr Vanessa Diaz and Dr Stavroula Balabani.

“These two are the most invaluable people I could have asked for,” said Alimohammadi who is now working as a research associate in Dr Diaz’s MUSE team.

Finding insights into a catastrophic medical emergency

Her doctoral research thesis, “Aortic dissection: simulation tools for disease management and understanding”, aims to change the way we understand and treat aortic dissection (AD). A medical emergency and a severe cardiovascular pathology in which a tear in the intimal layer of the aortic wall allows blood to flow between the vessel wall layers, AD causes dangerous blood flow behaviour.

Dr Alimohammadi’s research is a step towards more effective, patient-specific treatment.

“It’s a kind of disease where clinicians sometimes don’t know the best option to go for in terms of treatment. I think this new research gives a very good insight into what’s happening in those regions where clinicians don’t have any information,” said Dr Alimohammadi.

“You cannot simulate the entire body – it’s very extensive – and wherever you cut you need to make sure at that region, where you are cutting, represents what happens upstream and downstream of the aorta.”

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Because of how complex the research was, the supervision and expertise of Dr Diaz and Dr Balabani proved invaluable.

“Dr Balabani is very motivated, consistent and I am amazed by her ability to recall specifics of papers and her reviewing approach,” she said.

“I fell in love with fluid dynamics having attended her lectures in Kings College.”

Dr Diaz’s depth of knowledge meant that Mona was well equipped to tackle research problems.

“When I was saying ‘Gosh, this will never work,’ Dr. Diaz grabs a piece of paper and she starts from scratch – she does a small diagram that anyone can understand and she goes through everything.”

“She believed in me so much,” said Dr Alimohammadi, “it’s more than support –you don’t get tired, you don’t get terrified, you don’t want to run away, you get focused and you start finding your own passion.”

A passion in science

From Tehran to London, Dr Alimohammadi has followed her passion for science. Her father, an engineer, was one of her influences.

“Since I was a little girl I was observing him fix things around the house. Later on I wanted to do the same so I was fixing the Hoover or the fridge – well, I tried, let’s say.”

“It was to impress my dad – that’s the honest answer – and I didn’t manage to do that. Last week, I asked, are you happy I’ve done this and he said “No. I wanted you to do whatever made you happy”.  Even though I started this because of my dad I’m happy I finished it for myself.”

So what does she do when she isn’t tackling the science of challenging medical problems?

“Spare time? I don’t even know what that is (laughs)! A lot of things – I read a lot – I do horse riding and I like to spend my time with my sisters and friends.”

Regardless of the challenges ahead, Mona Alimohammadi is excited about her future research.

“Every single time we make it a notch more difficult – and I like it. I think that’s science – you have a vision and you keep on building your steps up to get there.”

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