See the magic in the everyday

Fri, Apr 15 2016

Physicist. Innovator. Virtual problem solver.

Vahid Rezania is a liver researcher, but he doesn’t have a lab. Or a microscope. And he never actually touches the largest internal organ in the human body. The liver Vahid works on lives inside a hard drive. It may not be real, but its implications for cancer patients certainly are. When complete, the virtual liver he’s building will be used to test life-saving chemotherapy drugs on computers instead of people.

Today Vahid’s research is tied to medicine, but it wasn’t always that way. As a teenager in Iran, Vahid pushed back when his parents encouraged him to pursue the solid career prospects that came with studying to become a doctor or engineer. He knew he loved science—chemistry and physics were on an equal playing field for him until he opened the mailbox one day to find the latest issue of his monthly science magazine.

“ We see the stars, the galaxy, suns and planets every day, so they seem like normal things, but there is still so much mystery to them, so much we still don’t know.” 

“I read an article about the space shuttle and it was a turning point for me,” he says. “I decided that, no matter what, I was going to go into physics.”

So Vahid built a physics career connected to the heavens. For years, he studied fluid dynamics inside stars, looking at how temperature and pressure affects how liquids move around inside balls of fire light-years away.

“We see the stars, the galaxy, suns and planets every day, so they seem like normal things, but there is still so much mystery to them, so much we still don’t know.”

The same can be said about the human body. So when Vahid was invited to apply his astrophysics expertise on fluids to help solve a biophysics mystery, he was intrigued.

“The equations we use in physics are general; the only thing that changes is the scale of the problem and the properties of the materials you’re working with,” he explains.

Vahid began looking at how fluid moves through the liver, starting very small and building toward creating a fully functioning model. For him, it’s all about curiosity.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the liver or a star—I want to know what’s happening beneath the surface,” he says. “I think you look at the world in a different way when you study physics. You wonder how things work and you see what connects things in the world rather than what separates them. When I see a bicycle, I’m thinking about the physics that keep a cyclist from falling. When I look at trees and flowers, I’m wondering how different shapes come to be, and how they are related and connected.”

That passion to see the world through a lens of curiosity is one that could eventually make a real difference in the lives of people who are not only dealing with the trauma of a cancer diagnosis, but unpredictable amounts of liver damage caused by chemo drugs.

“This is the most rewarding research I could be doing,” says Vahid. “If we are able to develop a virtual organ that works, it could make a real difference to people’s health and quality of life.”

Vahid Rezania is an associate professor in the Department of Physical Sciences. Find out more at