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Nikkhah wins best dissertation for identification of cell biomechanical signatures

Photograph of Mehdi Nikkhah

Mehdi Nikkhah

Mehdi Nikkhah (Ph.D. ’10) has been awarded the Virginia Tech 2010 Outstanding Dissertation Award for Sciences and Engineering for his dissertation, “Identification of Cell Biomechanical Signatures Using Three Dimensional Isotropic Microstructures.”

The Graduate School gives only two such awards each year; one in sciences and engineering, the other in humanities and social sciences. The awards are based on originality of the idea, contributions to the field, presentation of the ideas, and the quality of writing. Each department may nominate one dissertation per year for the award.

Using breast cancer as his model, Nikkhah developed three generations of a synthetic, three-dimensional, isotropic (curved) microstructure to conduct comprehensive analysis on the behavior of the key cellular components in human breast tumor microenvironment. The aim,” he writes, “was to investigate whether the normal and cancerous cells differentially respond to their underlying substrate and whether the differential response of the cells leads to a novel label-free technique to distinguish between normal and cancerous cells.”

Nikkhah’s research has implications in aiding the separation of cancerous cells from normal cells.

Nikkhah completed his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in December 2010 working in Virginia Tech’s MEMS lab with Masoud Agah, an associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering and an M.S. in biomedical engineering from Amirkabir University of Technology/Tehran Polytechnic in Tehran, Iran. Nikkhah also received a master of science in mechanical engineering from Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

He has received several awards while at Virginia Tech, including the 2010 Graduate Man of the Year Award, the 2009 Outstanding Doctoral Student in the College of Engineering Award and the 2008 Outstanding Graduate Student Leader Award.

He has published more than 25 journal articles and peer-reviewed conference papers, and holds one U.S. patent. Nikkhah was co-founder of Nano-VT, an interdisciplinary student organization focusing on the advancement of nanotechnology. Nikkhah will be joining Harvard Medical School in March as a research fellow to apply his expertise in the areas of bio-MEMS and micro-scale tissue engineering.