Future by the Door

Future by the Door

Science and engineering are truly occupations for cosmopolitans. Almost every major research or project is conducted by a team of specialists from around the world. Regional Post presents Armenian scientists and engineers living in different countries and working on projects that can bring the future to our door.

 

Text : Tatevik Stepanyan

 

Karina Zadorozhny (Movsesjan)

Field of study: Biology

Researcher at Masaryk University, Czech Republic

Karina Movsesjan is 19 years old and has already broke the common notion of what one can achieve by that age. She has been published in “Nature,” probably the most well-known and cited scientific journal in the world. She started her PhD studies in biochemistry at the age of 16, and at the age of 18 she won the first prize of European Union Contest for Young Scientists for her work on the role of RAD51 protein mutations in cancer development. She has also received Dudley R. Herschbach Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar Award.

Her research is mainly focused on RAD51 protein which was earlier discovered in several tumor types and is associated with cancer. She studies the mechanism of how RAD51 mutations contribute to tumorigenesis. Movsesjan told the Society for Science & the Public, “I aimed to understand how protein mutations contribute to the formation of a tumor. The protein I focused on, RAD51, takes care of broken DNA strands in our cells and protects cells from DNA damage. As this protein is extremely important for cell survival, it was very puzzling to find mutations of RAD51 in tumor cells. In order to determine how it was possible that those cancer cells weren’t dying, even though they had such an important protein mutation, I conducted a biochemical characterization of a RAD51 mutation that was found in a very aggressive uterine tumor. The results provided a striking explanation for this phenomenon. Although there was a mutation, the mutated RAD51 protein was still able to repair broken DNA efficiently. However, I also found that there was a different defect: mutated protein could not fulfill a RAD51 role in the protection of duplicating DNA. This could thus explain the mechanism by which RAD51 mutations confer an advantage for tumorigenesis.”

Karina Movsesjan currently works as a researcher in the Laboratory of Recombination and DNA Repair of Masaryk University, one of the leading HIEs in Czech Republic.

 

Arnak Dalalyan

Field of study: Mathematics

Professor at ENSAE / CREST, France

At the age of 13 Arnak Dalalyan took part in Armenian national competition in mathematics and, without having a special training, managed to get the third place. He was soon included in the extended list of candidates for the national team that had to represent the country in the International Mathematical Olympiad. And that is when he decided to become a researcher. “I really felt that mathematics is easy for me,” says Arnak. “Looking back now, I understand that it was mainly thanks to the family education I had received. My parents, being both scientists, had cultivated a curiosity and interest in the scientific discovery that conditioned my future.”

Arnak graduated from Yerevan State University with a Bachelor’s degree, obtained his Master’s in Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, and got his PhD at the University of Maine. He is working on mathematical aspects of data analysis and machine learning and is currently focused on getting a better understanding of the algorithms that are popular in machine learning. Arnak notes that mathematics nowadays is very different from that of the 20th century. Back then, a solid knowledge in advanced mathematics could be enough, while now mathematical methods are applied more and more in the industry and in various scientific fields, and a contemporary researcher must be open to new applications and know how to code and implement mathematical methods. “The general goal of the mathematics is to understand the properties of some complex and often abstract objects” explains Arnak. “We do it using sophisticated reasoning and some technical computations. To illustrate scientific findings and to demonstrate their connection to the problems of the real life, we often resort to numerical experiments. These experiments, carried out by using scientific software, help us to make discoveries and to check their validity.”

Arnak is constantly in touch with scientific community of Armenia. In 2016, he spent several months teaching at the American University of Armenia and is planning to repeat this experience in the nearest future.

 

Konstantin Khetchoumian

Field of study: Molecular Biology

Research Associate at Montreal Clinical Research Institute, Canada

Konstantin Khetchoumian comes from a family of scientists: his mother is a medical doctor, and his father is a molecular biologist. After getting his PhD at the Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow, Konstantin’s father started his own lab at the Institute of Biochemistry in Yerevan. Konstantin recalls, “I really grew up surrounded by science. I used to spend all my summer holidays in the lab with my father. He always takes pride in stating the fact that I did my first DNA extraction when I was 10!”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the scientific community, as well as the entire country, faced extreme economic problems. “There was no funding at all. My father lost all his reagents and his big collection of flies.” In 1993, the family moved to France where Konstantin decided to follow his father’s path. He entered the Université Louis Pasteur (now the University of Strasbourg) to study molecular biology. Laboratory continued to be his main destination for summer holidays. Here in Strasbourg Konstantin obtained both his master’s and PhD degrees: his doctoral dissertation was recognized as “best thesis” by the Scientific Council of the Strasbourg Louis Pasteur University. He then moved to Canada to conduct postdoctoral studies at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute. In 2013, Konstantin started to work as a research associate in Dr Jacques Drouin laboratory where their team worked on understanding the regulation of gene expression program at the origin of normal pituitary development, as well as in the case of pathologies, such as the Cushing disease. Konstantin says, “During the last 11 years, here at the IRCM, I achieved a number of results which open new possibilities” and adds, “my number one priority now is to publish the work which is already completed. However, there is still a lot to do, and I plan to continue my work in the same direction, using the new technologies and approaches that are coming out every day. We are living in a great time to do science, especially when it comes to natural sciences.”

Although Konstantin hasn’t been in Armenia since his family left the country, he is in touch with Diasporan Armenian communities and Armenian scientists abroad. “We are part of a network that includes Canadian, French, British, German, Mexican and American scientists working on pituitary. Each year we have a meeting to share data and establish collaborations. And I am going to propose to organize such gatherings in Armenia: This will be a great way to eventually visit my homeland.”

 

Tigran Shahverdyan

Field of study: Physics, Engineering

Co-founder of Robomart, USA

Tigran Shahverdyan became interested in engineering while still a child. He was very much inspired by his grandfather, an experienced engineer who worked in Yerevan Computer Research and Development Institute for over 50 years. However, impressive results at several International Astronomy Olympiads and International Physics Olympiad in Ukraine, Russia and Indonesia pushed Tigran to opt for physics as his major in university. He received an invitation to study at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) and got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the MIPT. Tigran even started preparing his PhD thesis on space physics but left it incomplete because of unflagging enthusiasm for the NewSpace movement. In 2012, Tigran took part in International Space University Summer Space Program in the US, and after getting back to Moscow he joined “Selenokhod” startup. Selenokhod was a team of engineers and researchers who aimed to land a rover on Moon. It was the only team from post-Soviet territory to participate in Google Lunar X Prize competition from 2009 to 2013. At the same time, he started working remotely on a study together with scientists from the Institute for Physical Research in Ashtarak, Armenia. A few years later, this team was awarded President Prize of the Republic of Armenia for the series of articles on analytic models of quantum two-state problem. Tigran also co-founded RoboCV startup in Russia. With RoboCV team he created self-driving vehicles that transport goods inside factories and distribution centers of FMCG companies. Tigran says, “Science and engineering are very much connected but at the same time they differ from each other significantly: a scientist does not look for instant solutions but always searches and generates new knowledge; an engineer, on the other hand, deals with creating solutions and products that can solve existing problems.” Tigran’s latest project itself is a promising new startup: he is the co-founder of “Robomart,” a US-based technological company building the world’s first self-driving grocery stores.

 

Arevik Vardanyan

Field of study: Microbiology

Senior Researcher at Armbiotech Laboratory NAS of Armenia

Arevik Vardanyan obtained her first degree in plant pathology at Armenian National Agrarian University. During her studies, she became interested in microbiology and gradually focused her research on microbiology in mining. Since 2008, she works on the subject at Armbiotech Laboratory in Yerevan. Arevik continued her education at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, and then defended her PhD thesis at Cyprus University of Technology. She also worked as a researcher at the University of Liège in Belgium as a member of GeMMe research group – a unique initiative which aims to develop innovative approaches on efficient recycling of consumers’ goods and complex georesources. Arevik worked specifically on microbiological recycling of used electrical equipment. As a result of the above-mentioned research, the group developed a two-stage microbiological and chemical recycling process and applied for the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions grant to continue the work. Unfortunately, GeMMe did not get the grant, but Arevik became the firsts Armenian scientist to receive “Seal of Excellence” which is awarded to the high-rated proposals. Arevik says the award will allow her to apply for an individual fellowship to continue studies on extraction of precious metals from electrical equipment to make them reusable in the future. “I grow iron-oxidizing microbes in a special environment, and then use the liquid with microbial products to decompose PCBs” explains Arevik. “It is a closed-cycle process called bioleaching. It does not produce dangerous emissions and is safe for the environment. Furthermore, it is more effective than the alternative methods.” While the study is still in the stage of laboratory research, Arevik is convinced the method is fully applicable in Armenia. The results of another research she works on are not only possible to implement in Armenia, but can be of high demand: bioleaching technologies that are being developed by Arevik and other researchers in Armbiotech Laboratory can be used to extract metals if, of course, mining companies ever start to produce pure metals instead of concentrates. Although the technology is time-consuming, it is both cheap and clean. Moreover, it can be used to clean the mine tailings – an intensively growing problem for ecology of Armenia.