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Discoverer of the Year bridges science and medicine

Fascinated by science since high school, Alireza Mashaghi Tabari is driven to explore new ways of thinking in medicine. With a strong academic network, he educates students and gives public lectures. For his research at LACDR, he won the C.J. Kok Public Award 2018, making him the Faculty of Science's Discoverer of the Year 2017.

A fascinated student

Mashaghi’s fascination with science started during his school days in Iran. He tells: ‘I fell in love with mathematics and very much enjoyed abstract mathematical structures. Number theory was perhaps the first area in math that I got interested in.’ A turning point was when he came into contact with physics, which made him interested in the laws that govern natural processes.

He continues: ‘As Feynman put it, “the pleasure of finding things out” is what drives me in my occupation. I am fascinated about solving fundamental problems as well as addressing problems that affect society. In particular, I am excited about finding useful links between physics and medicine or pharmacy.’ Together with his team members, he is exploring totally new ways of thinking in medicine which are inspired by concepts developed by physicists. As an advocate of interdisciplinary research, he educates students and gives public lectures.

From Harvard University to LACDR

Before moving to Leiden, Mashaghi worked in the United States at MIT and Harvard University. He had an independent research team working on a wide range of topics related to physics and medicine. He moved from Harvard to Leiden, because his family was interested to live in the Netherlands. ‘I came to LACDR because I was interested in bridging science and medicine. This institute has been at the forefront of pharmaceutical sciences for decades and was instrumental in shaping the current way of thinking in pharmacy. It is also strategically located: Leiden has a strong history in physics, several university hospitals are close by, and TU Delft is around the corner. This environment is in a way similar to Boston which is dense in academic and industrial groups with different expertise.’

Voting on an international level

Mashaghi has won the C.J. Kok Public Award because his research is revolutionary, combining physics and medicine. His research is about the proteins that help other proteins to fold. For the competition, Mashaghi has acquired most public votes, but he has not actively campaigned for votes. ‘I was basically off the radar during the voting period because of a grant deadline and a major invited talk which I gave at a conference. The funny thing is that even my family members were not aware of the competition and did not participate in voting.’

Mashaghi has built a very strong academic network over the years, particularly in countries where he worked such as Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States. ‘Naturally, I received a lot of votes from the US and Europe as well as my home country, where I was a gifted student and an influential scientist at a national level.’

Appreciation and new collaborations

Mashaghi was happy to be nominated. ‘I knew that it will give more visibility to my work and help me in making new collaborations. I am happy that the work my co-workers and I did over the years is being increasingly appreciated by my colleagues and the public.’

Photo: Alireza Mashaghi Tabari (left) receiving the Discoverer of the Year award form rector magnificus Carel Stolker

Further readings

  1. Ramezanpour A and Mashaghi A, Toward first principle medical diagnostics: on the importance of disease-disease and sign-sign interactions. Frontiers in Physics 5, 32 (2017)

  2. Mashaghi A et al., Alternative modes of client binding enable functional plasticity of Hsp70. Nature 539, 448–451 (2016)\

  3. Mashaghi A et al., Circuit topology of proteins and nucleic acids. Structure 22 (9), 1227-1237 (2014)

  4. Mashaghi A et al., Reshaping of the conformational search of a protein by the chaperone trigger factor. Nature 500, 98–101 (2013)