Three BME graduate students awarded Connaught PhDs for Public Impact Fellowship

Three graduate students from the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (BME) have been awarded the prestigious Connaught PhDs for Public Impact Fellowship for the 2024-2025 cohort. Mohammadamir (Amir) Moghaddam, Nicolas Ivanov, and Lily Takeuchi have each received this honour in recognition of their  projects aimed at bridging the gap between academic research and public engagement.

The Connaught PhDs for Public Impact Fellowship Program offers U of T doctoral students an opportunity to explore the world of public scholarship, making connections outside the university through innovative forms of scholarly communication. PhDs for Public Impact fellows focus on engaging the public through their scholarly work, fostering a two-way exchange of knowledge and practices.

Mohammadamir (Amir) Moghaddam

Amir is a PhD candidate under the supervision of Professor Leo Chou’s lab at BME. His research focuses on cancer vaccine and therapeutic designs using DNA origami nanotechnology. He has published papers in leading journals and secured over $300,000 in competitive research funding and scholarships. As President of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, Amir advocates for graduate student funding, housing security, and food security.

Amir’s project, the “Knowledge Beyond Campus Initiative,” aims to bridge the gap between advanced cancer research and public understanding. Over the fellowship year, Amir will conduct six seminars to disseminate cutting-edge cancer research insights to diverse audiences, including patients, survivors, and the general public. The initiative will start with EDI training for graduate student speakers, ensuring inclusive and accessible presentations. Subsequent seminars will engage participants in discussions on the latest advancements in cancer therapeutics, fostering a two-way flow of knowledge. The initiative emphasizes active patient involvement, leveraging connections with healthcare non-profits such as the Canadian Cancer Society, and ensuring wide accessibility through live-streamed sessions with English and French captions.

Nicolas Ivanov

Nicolas is a PhD candidate under the supervision of Professor Tom Chau at BME. His research focuses on enhancing the clinical feasibility of brain-computer interfaces for children with disabilities by developing new EEG analysis techniques to improve user training and performance assessments. As a graduate student, Nicolas has led multiple studies, investigating topics ranging from modeling of temporal EEG dynamics to user interpretation of training feedback, which have been published in leading journals. Beyond his primary research, Nicolas is a director of the U of T Discovery educational program which engages high school students in research-themed projects to foster student scientific interest and inquiry skills. In recognition of his research and community work, Nicolas has received several competitive research awards and scholarships including a NSERC doctoral award.

Nicolas’ project is centered on STEM education. The U of T Discovery educational program, a partnership between U of T engineering graduate students and Toronto District School Board teachers, aims to empower students to deconstruct barriers to STEM participation. The program engages secondary students in semester-long, project-based learning within U of T’s laboratory teaching facilities, providing immersive learning experiences in realistic STEM environments through hands-on activities, self-directed learning, and problem-based projects with real-life applications. The project will study the effect of program participation on students’ interest in pursuing future STEM opportunities and their learning outcomes.

Lily Takeuchi

Lily is a PhD candidate under the supervision of Professor Craig Simmons at BME. Her doctoral research aims to improve neurological drug discovery through the development of in vitro models of Alzheimer’s disease using patient stem cells. Over her academic career, Lily has co-authored more than 10 peer-reviewed publications and received over 10 research awards, including the NSERC Doctoral Scholarship. She has served as a former Board of Director and Vice President of the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology.

Lily’s project involves creating mini-laboratory kits that include everything needed to conduct a simple experiment, such as low-cost versions of laboratory supplies, an instructional booklet, and a complementary video highlighting researchers from historically underrepresented groups in neuroscience. The kits aim to make neuroscience concepts and techniques accessible to those experiencing barriers to STEM education, such as those in rural areas or without access to scientific equipment and training. Kits will be distributed to partnering communities and K-12 schools, and outcomes data will be collected to better understand how educational tools in STEM can promote access to STEM careers in marginalized communities.

The Connaught PhDs for Public Impact Fellowship Program provides an exceptional opportunity for U of T doctoral students to engage the public through their scholarly work, making significant contributions to society.