Logo: University of Southern California

Ray Of Light

Graduate Student Simin Mehrabani creates award-winning ultraviolet sensor.
By: Vanessa Wilkins
August 04, 2014 —

USC Graduate Student Simin Mehrabani recieves the Silver Award at the Materials Research Society conference in San Francisco. 
For some students, summertime means relaxing on the beach and enjoying the warm weather. But one USC Viterbi graduate student is doing much more than just soaking up the sun.

Simin Mehrabani, a 29-year-old Ph.D. student at USC Viterbi, has created a reliable ultraviolet sensor that detects levels of UV radiation through various environmental conditions, as well as measures some of the effects that humans have on the environment.

“Humans and our activities are changing the environment, and we need better and faster sensors to be able to monitor the environment and make sure nothing wrong is going to happen,” Mehrabani said.

Mehrabani created an ultraviolet sensor based on a silica optical microresonator, which is an ultra-high sensitivity sensor to monitor the environment by detecting UV radiation more accurately than ever before.

“If you think about the environment, there are different factors like temperature, pressure, relative humidity and UV from the sun,” Mehrabani said. “We need to monitor them because of the influence that we have on the environment through things like industrial processes.”

Born in Tehran, Iran, Mehrabani was interested in the way things worked from a young age. She recalls conducting elementary level chemistry and physics experiments with her brother and her father, who is an engineer for Nargan Engineers and Constructors in Iran.

“I was amazed at how things worked, like my bike,” Mehrabani said. That wonder and curiosity continued to grow inside of her throughout her youth. When Mehrabani went to Iran University of Science and Technology, she decided to study chemical engineering because of her love of chemistry and engineering.

Mehrabani earned her B.S. in 2008. Mehrabani moved to America with her husband in August of 2009, and began her Ph.D. studies at USC Viterbi in January of 2010.  She is currently working on her thesis, which focuses on her work with the UV sensor she created.   

Her research has paid off. Mehrabani’s work with her UV sensor was recently recognized at the Materials Research Society conference in San Francisco, where she and her team received the Silver Award for research.

Mehrabani credits her faculty advisor, USC Viterbi Professor Andrea Armani, for much of her success. Armani, who worked with her protégé on the UV sensor project, said Mehrabani exceeds all expectations.  

“Simin is more than just a researcher,” Armani said. “She is also an amazing mentor to undergraduates and an exceptional teacher, giving freely of her time on weekends to tutor middle and high school students.” 

Audrey Harker, one of Mehrabani’s mentees, agrees. A graduate student at UC Berkeley, Harker worked with Mehrabani and Armani on the UV sensor project while completing her undergrad at USC Viterbi. She described Mehrabani as attentive to details, focused, hardworking, and above all else, caring.

“What made Simin so great is that I knew, at the end of the day, she cared most about me as a person as opposed to a mentee, undergrad or coworker. I have an undergrad working with me this summer, and I draw a lot of inspiration from Simin. ”

Mehrabani has thoroughly enjoyed her time at USC Viterbi, and aims to find a career in research and development where she can make a difference.

“I’m really happy that I’ve been able to work in a field that I’m passionate about and that I care about,” Mehrabani said.