Ali Daher receives Rhodes Scholarship

Daher plans to study mechanobiology at Oxford

Ali Daher ’20, a mechanical engineering major concentrating in biological engineering, was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for the Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine region. The award was announced in an MIT News article Nov. 15. Daher plans to pursue a degree in research engineering science with the Oxford Mechanobiology Group.

Daher said in an interview with The Tech that he originally planned to attend medical school in Jordan. “I always had this passion for math and engineering, which I put aside for a while until I came to MIT,” Daher said. Daher took classes through Health Sciences and Technology (HST) that combined mechanical and biological engineering. “I liked the engineering and the analytical approach, but I also had a passion for biology,” he said.

Through his classes at HST, Daher became interested in mathematically-modeling biological phenomena. “I just found it absolutely amazing, and I thought, that’s something I want to learn more about, and hopefully contribute to,” Daher said. 

Daher’s current research project began as a SuperUROP in the Multidisciplinary Simulation, Estimation, and Assimilation Systems (MSEAS) lab. His project focuses on developing mathematical models for a particular type of brain tumor known to be highly aggressive: glioblastoma multiforme.

Daher explained that the tumor is challenging for clinicians to treat because of its “unpredictable dynamics” and poor quality of MRI data due to different brain geometries. For 1.5 years, he has been working on modeling the tumor with an algorithm developed in the MSEAS lab that models fluid systems in the ocean. He hopes that one day, this type of modeling can be used in healthcare.

Daher also led a research project with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Genetics investigating algorithms that score the pathogenicity of genetic mutations by studying their effect on the structure of proteins.

While searching for graduate programs that offered research opportunities at the intersection of mechanical and biological engineering, Daher became interested in the research of the Oxford Mechanobiology Group, which prompted him to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford.

The Rhodes Scholarship “offers you leadership training, connections so that you can learn from your various peers who are high-achieving and who have different opinions,” Daher said. “I thought that joining such a cohort of people would give me the connections and the opportunity to learn from them.”

Daher advises students to take their time when deciding on a research interest. “You only get to really know your passions once you get out of your comfort zone [and] start taking a couple of classes and [doing] projects that ... you might not necessarily stick to. If you’re not going to explore at MIT, where and when are you going to explore?”

The Rhodes Scholarship is an international postgraduate award established in 1902. About 100 students are accepted to study fully-funded at the University of Oxford each year. The scholarship for the Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine region, which was created in 2016, is awarded to two students each year.

According to the Rhodes Trust, “Rhodes Scholarships are for young leaders of outstanding intellect and character who are motivated to engage with global challenges, committed to the service of others and show promise of becoming value-driven, principled leaders for the world’s future.”