College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Hashemi is the new William March Scholar in Mechanical Engineering

Hashemi, NastaranGrowing up in Tehran, Iran, Nicole Hashemi attended Farzanegan School, a group of schools created to educate talented young students. Administered by the National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents, the schools challenge middle school and high school students with college-level study of academic subjects. Her strong educational background and interest in hard sciences eventually led her to Iowa State, where she will be an assistant professor of mechanical engineering beginning this fall.

As a young student at Farzanegan, Hashemi became interested in physics and began working on projects such as studying the general theory of relativity and black holes through reading books such as “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking to enrich her education. While participating on a telescope-building project with the Society of Young Researchers, her interests took a sudden shift that would guide her through her college career and beyond. “Following the telescope project, I became really interested in building equipment and realized that mechanical engineering would give me the opportunity to do just that,” says Hashemi.

She then attended Tehran Polytechnic, where she received a BS in mechanical engineering in 1999. Following graduation, she worked in industry for three years and then moved to the United States to pursue her PhD in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, which she received in 2008. At Virginia Tech, she developed numerical techniques specifically tailored for discontinuous, nonlinear, and hysteretic dynamical systems to study the dynamics of tapping mode Atomic Force Microscope with capillary force interactions. Hashemi also served as a teaching assistant for various classes and was appointed as a visiting assistant professor following graduation. She was honored with a variety of awards that include the Hampton Roads Spring Scholarship from the Society of Women Engineers in 2007; the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute Fellowship from National Science Foundation in 2007, which involved a summer study abroad experience in east Asia; and an American Society for Engineering Education Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2009.

From there, Hashemi took a position at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C., where she got involved in a project that would fuel her current research aspirations. “My past and current research has been focused on developing Lab-on-a-chip devices based on microfluidic technology and portable biomedical devices such as microflow cytometers   and biosensors,” Hashemi explains.

At the Naval Research Lab, Hashemi developed a microflow cytometer to detect and analyze phytoplankton. Phytoplankton fast response to changes in nutrient levels and environmental pollutions makes them a reliable dynamic indicator of such changes. The data from the biosensors helps researchers monitor environmental changes and develop an understanding of how these changes can have destructive affects on the marine microorganisms . The project took Hashemi about  a year and half to develop, and she considers the research to be the most exciting she has conducted yet. “The first time I got results from my microflow cytometer  and was able to detect different microorganism species was very exciting,” Hashemi says. “With it, we can discriminate between different populations of phytoplankton,  and as a result identify what pollutant is present at a specific region of the ocean.”

At Iowa State, Hashemi hopes to get a lab set up and attract motivated students to work with her. “In research, I am really hoping to expand my expertise in the area of portable biosensors, specifically for monitoring the environment on a larger scale and point-of-care application” she says.

In terms of teaching, she expects her experience at Virginia Tech to help her considerably. Knowing that teaching a new class will offer some challenges, she has been focusing on perfecting her approach. “I know I will have some students who have a strong understanding and some that will need more attention,” says Hashemi. “I am going to focus on reaching both of those groups of students.” She says she will do this by providing extra curriculum material if needed and offering supplemental office hours.

Hashemi will hold the title of William March Scholar in Mechanical Engineering. With plans to make a difference in environmental observation and her students alike, she looks forward to the new opportunities Iowa State has to offer her.