June 9, 2014

Electrical engineering grad gives new meaning to 'whiz-kid'

Soroosh Hemmati’s work ethic and natural ability earn accolades from profs — and a very bright future

When Soroosh Hemmati attends convocation ceremonies today, the electrical engineering grad will stand in a class of his own.

The Schulich scholarship student completed all the requirements for an engineering degree in just three years rather than the usual four or five — with a grade point average of 4.0.

Then, to boost his insight into post-graduate research possibilities, he spent the last year minoring in pure math and physics, scoring A-plus grades in all his courses.

That puts him in “a special class of brilliant students able to think beyond disciplinary boundaries and hopefully contribute new knowledge,” says Ayodeji Jeje, professor at the Schulich School of Engineering.

The 21-year-old lends new meaning to the expression “whiz-kid.” He graduated from Western Canada High School with 100 per cent in chemistry, math and physics — while garnering top 10 finishes in three of Canada’s toughest math competitions and a sixth place in the national physics Olympiad.

His passion for mathematics began at the age of two, he says, “as by then I had already learned most of the preschool and grade school math.”

In September, he will begin postgraduate studies at UCLA, conducting research into physical and wave electronics. One of his goals is to create a robotic limb for amputees and “there is some really good research going on there.”

Soroosh moved to Canada from Iran with his parents, both engineers, in 2009. He witnessed the pain caused by injuries inflicted during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war “so that had a deep impact on why I would consider something like this.”

His “aha” moment came when he was playing flamenco guitar. Frustrated by the physical difficulty of mastering some of the guitar songs, “I was thinking that if you had a robotic arm, you could just download the song. It would be awesome.”

There is no doubt Soroosh is bright, but if you ask him the main reason for his academic feats, the modest student attributes it to working hard. During semesters he was on campus from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. “If somebody wants to find me they go to the library,” he jokes. “I’m always there.”

“He is quite disciplined,” says Jeje. “His priority is learning, rather than playing or entertaining himself with myriad distractions. His focus is to gain competent understanding of concepts in his discipline.”

Soroosh will admit to a few distractions. In addition to flamenco guitar, he takes salsa and tango lessons and likes to try “new things” like skydiving and cliff jumping. He also found time to volunteer teaching Olympiad-level math to bright junior high and high school students and takes pride that five of them have ranked in the top three on provincial and national math contests and three are contenders for the Canadian International Olympiad team.

“I know that if I’m not challenged I get bored. That’s why I keep myself busy.”

The University of Calgary “had a big impact on me,” Soroosh says. “I grew up a lot here and met a lot of really good friends and really excellent profs.”