Office Hours with… Amir Pahlavan

Pahlavan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, is an expert in the field of fluid dynamics and soft matter physics.
Amir Pahlavan

Amir Pahlavan

Amir Pahlavan has studied a range of natural phenomena, including the spreading of liquid drops on surfaces, the formation of air bubbles in liquids, and the response of bacteria to chemical gradients in their natural habitats. He officially began at Yale this summer, and he and his family have just moved from Princeton to New Haven.

We caught up with him for the latest edition of Office Hours, a Q&A series that introduces newcomers to the Yale faculty to the broader university community.

Title Assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science, Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science
Research interest Fluid mechanics; soft matter; transport phenomena; pattern formation
Prior institution Princeton University
Started at Yale Summer 2021

How would you describe your research?

My research is in the areas of fluid mechanics and soft matter physics. More specifically, my focus is on physicochemical hydrodynamics and interfacial transport phenomena — that is, understanding how interfaces between fluids or fluids and solids influence the fate of flow and transport in complex environments.

How do you get your ideas for research?

I often get inspired by the complexity and elegance of natural systems and then try to understand them by simplifying those as much as possible and making connections to other phenomena in physics. It’s a great time to be a researcher because you can find connections everywhere. You come across something, and people don't understand why it’s happening. So, you start with this puzzle, and that leads to something else. It’s really just solving puzzles, one after another.

For instance, I study how bacteria get transported in their natural environments in the presence of fluid flow and chemical gradients. But the power grid and the internet are also transport systems, where electricity and information are being transmitted on a complex network. You can make these connections all over the place

Do you ever work on actual puzzles?

I do them with my son, who is soon turning four; mostly jigsaw puzzles.

If you hadn’t gone into academia, what do you think you would be doing?

A lot of options seem interesting. There are some engineering companies, especially startups that are doing really interesting work. 3D printing is a common example. I have even thought about going outside my field — finance, or doing data science. It’s good to be in academia because you face a puzzle every day in a way. You never get bored.

How do you spend your time outside of research?

Outside the lab, I try to spend time with my family as much as possible; we often go on short hikes or biking on weekends.


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