Remembering Mohammad Asadi Lari: 2017 Interview. Honouring his passion for youth and STEM Fellowship

It is with great sadness that we share the news that our friend Mohammad Asadi Lari passed away along with his sister, Zeynab onboard Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in Tehran. Mohammad was an outstanding human being on so many levels – kind, intelligent, a community giver – his passing is a great loss to the many lives and communities he impacted. 

He inspired many youth to pursue STEM, to make it fun, engaging, and it’s one of the reasons why we at IdeasXChange featured his work back in 2017 as an Campus Innovator – because aside from his passion to make a difference, he was just a good human being in so many ways. Our deepest condolences are with Mohammad’s family, the many whose lives he touched and all those who tragically lost their lives onboard this flight.

Many of us knew Mohammad and in his honour, below you will find the original piece featuring his interview with us in 2017. These are his words. You can hear his unequivocal passion for change making as he shares his achievements and dreams. Let us remember him and honour his commitment to make this a better world.

– Miguel A. Rozo, Steven Zhang and Priscilla Ng


Priscilla Ng, the Editor-in-Chief of IdeasXChange had the opportunity to talk to Mohammad Asadi Lari, a third-year Honours Physiology student who is involved primarily in research and youth engagement. His passion in facilitating an innovative, sustainable, and paradigm-shifting discussion in STEM research and data education prompted him to be involved in various organizations in research and scholarly publishing that are well-known within Canada and beyond.

Please describe yourself and your passion in 3 words:
Two of these words can actually be integrated into one word – ‘social’ and ‘innovation’. I like the social aspect and the innovation aspect of the fields that I am engaged in. I first learned about this term at the National Youth Leadership and Innovation Summit in Toronto. Before that, I was never engaged with people who were involved in start-ups, but this was a buzzword that kept coming up during the conference. I would also want to choose the word ‘compassion’ too, because I care about the people who I work with. Compassion is required in social innovation and the work that I do in that area. I think that my own growth is intertwined with the growth of my peers – they grow, I grow, and I hope that when I grow, I am able to share it with others, so that they also grow as individuals. That’s actually why I think ‘compassion’ is the most important word out of the three.

You had mentioned your interest in educational innovation and working with UBC students to cultivate young leaders. What inspired you to be a part of STEM Fellowship, and what would you like UBC students to be able to take away from getting involved with the organization?
STEM Fellowship started when Dr. Sacha Noukhovich, a highly seasoned teacher from Toronto, invited me to work with two students currently at UCalgary and UofT on a new organization. It kick-started in April 2015, and from that point onwards, it became my most important involvement! My immediate social circle was in UBC, so we had recruited a lot of people here initially, which was followed by establishing our first club here in March 2016, and expanding our presence into a total of twelve campuses (and counting!). Our primary focus is on data science and scholarly communication, but we want students to see these as tools where they could both get engaged with STEM leadership, innovation and research, as well as getting to share their work. There is a lot of good work out there by students, but they are unaware of how they can share them, and this is not just limited to writing. We are also working closely with a company called Digital Science, probably one of the largest innovation companies in the scholarly publishing field, and they push for a number of tools used for analyzing research around the world. In doing this, we are also aiming to connect major non-profit organizations and companies in the scholarly publishing field to campuses all across Canada, and this is where our scholarly communication, ‘Editing 101’ and peer review workshops come in. We hope to create an international network, that is brought together by the collective action of local clusters of STEM Fellows, and given the strong presence we have in UBC, we hope to see this campus as a leading element of the broader project!

The Big Data Challenge and the STEM Fellowship Journal seem to be two of the major projects at work by the organization (along with many others). Please tell us more about what lies behind this year’s theme, ‘Using impact data to understand and predict the future directions of science’, why Data Science is important, and some of the challenges faced in pushing for this initiative. The Big Data Challenge in Toronto is an initiative where we provide data sets to students, and they will use a total of 3 months using the tools and options to analyze data in order to come up with their own projects. Eight projects will be selected to enter the finale in Toronto, and our ultimate goal is to make this initiative nation-wide. We are also, of course, looking to bring this into UBC. Our Big Data events are currently sponsored by IBM-Big Data University, Microsoft, SAS and SciNet (Canada’s largest super computer centre). What was interesting about this year is that our students were working on open-access data and the data from the city of Toronto last year, and this year, students are working with Alternative Metrics (AltMetrics). They ended up becoming our sponsors for the Big Data Challenge, and the source of research data that our students to work with. A lot of very interesting projects emerged from this collaboration which were extremely impressive for high school students, and we will be publishing three of them in our next issue. Over the past year, I also had the opportunity to talk to a number of indigenous student leaders, and they were interested in the idea of the Big Data Challenge because they saw potential in working with data that were relevant to their respective communities, especially the environmental issues regarding the construction of the pipeline. I think STEM is very empowering; giving students the tools they need to solidify their projects, as well as mentorship with data and coming up with trends, and finding things that they would be able to share. Our ultimate goal is to be a platform that would give students tools to do things themselves, which is why we want to bring data education online. This will also become an important component of our STEMpowerment initiative.

As the Managing Director at the STEM Fellowship and the co-director of the STEM Fellowship Journal Editorial Board, what is your definition of a successful research project, and what are some of your tips for students who are interested in research and learning more about getting their work published?
The STEM Fellowship Journal is actually the only Canadian science publishing journal that is dedicated only to publishing high school and undergraduate work. The idea is that we want to be a national platform journal to show student research, and promote interdisciplinary research. We are arranging the publication of research with institutions across Canada, such as the undergraduate engineering research in the University of Toronto, inter-disciplinary research from McGill University, the top project from the Science One program at UBC, and the Sanofi Biogenius Challenge. These institutions work with students and research fairs, and are able to produce high-quality student research from a mix of different fields, disciplines, and year groups. Recently, we have also been able to secure with two major granting agencies, NSERC and CIHR, to promote SFJ and allow for a select number of publications coming from publicly funded research by undergraduate students.  We also published works from our High School Scholarly Writing challenge, where students had submitted their IB extended essays, for example, and had gotten feedback on it. Four of them were chosen and could publish their work in the journal. We are also getting in touch with the Harvard Undergraduate Research Society, and the Stanford Undergraduate Research Society, to publish their research work and expand the network as well – it’s a win-win situation. The journal is our flagship scholarly aspect, but what I see happening in the long-term are the workshops, so students can have access to tools to write, to share, and to see themselves as capable to be writing more. The tools are not limited to STEM, as they are as applicable to humanity as they are to science, so we would want to get the interdisciplinary feature as solid as possible.

We are interested in knowing more about your involvement in the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO)! What are some of the action plans in progress for bringing a more sustainable and internationally connected future for the Canadian and global youth? What are some of the way in which the youth can become more engaged? UNESCO’s Education Week had focused on education for sustainable development, and global citizenship education. My involvement in the CCUNESCO Youth Advisory Group (YAG) stems from my will to promote more novel educational philosophies, to change paradigms in education, and make them wider so students can avoid perceiving the world in a narrow way. A big part of what we are aiming to do is to connect students from different countries, and because of my personal connections, we did publish some works by students from Iran. These students from Central Iran were working on projects that were quite basic, but they were incredibly impressive for those students, as they were in grade nine and I had doubted that they had written the work themselves! But after talking to them, I was convinced that it was their work indeed. A lot of these initiatives are catered towards North America and Western Europe, but the world is so much bigger, and I see a lot of arrogance sometimes that a shifting in education paradigms can help us break. We are currently seeing interest from university students from outside North America, including Iran, Russia and South Africa!

What are some of the biggest challenges and setbacks in establishing Gene Researching for A Week, and how did you go about tackling it? Were your larger visions in starting this initiative carried through to your current endeavours in STEM Fellowship? The Gene Researching for A Week was established twelve years ago, and it helped me a lot with the initiatives and project that I am working on in STEM Fellowship today. The reason that this project has been so successful is because we have been getting applications from throughout Canada. 40-50 high school students are paired up with a supervisor during the spring break, and these students get to shadow their supervisors in their labs for a week, full time, to observe and also to get involved one way or another. Even though the organization that was originally running the Gene Research for A Week project was dissolved, the project still carried on under CIHR’s leadership because it was so effective and executed in high-quality. For me, I would love to see STEM Fellowship’s STEMpowerment program getting the amount of recognition that Gene Research for A Week did, gaining that representation and being able to garner people’s interest from all over Canada, so we can further this paradigm and be a part in changing people’s lives.

Tell us about an inspiring figure who you have always looked up to. How and why did they inspire you? It’s cliché – but my mom! I have to persist on naming her, and actually also my grandmothers, because they have incredible impact on my life. They have inspired me in different ways, by being resilient and patient, while strengthening my resolve to try harder and harder. I share with my grandmothers the details of the work that I am involved in, and they give me advice…the whole compassion aspect has its roots in these discussions, and from listening to my elders.

Lastly, are there any major plans for 2017 and beyond that you’d like us to look out for? For STEM Fellowship, there are a lot of things that we would like to see happen. Our biggest strive at the moment is to establish a strong membership base, and actually have STEM fellows. We do not have a membership program as of now, so that is something for us to look into, and it would be geared both to high school students and university students on different aspects. Our ongoing goal is centered on expansion, but aside from this, I am exploring the global health ecosystem in the hope of starting a health startup with one of my close friends from the physiology program, Geoffrey Ching. We are at a very baseline phase, but the process is very exciting!

Campus Innovator The IdeasXChange Campus Innovator is a forward-thinking, proactive individual who has kickstarted their own sustainable initiative on the UBC Vancouver campus. Their involvement surrounds the core values of a sustainable, innovative and interdisciplinary mindset, which they are eager to share with the rest of the UBC student body. If you would like to nominate yourself or someone else to be featured as a Campus Innovator, please send your pitch to:

Learn more about STEM Fellowship at:

Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities Workshop Forum + Workshop

IdeasXChange’s first 2016 workshop was constructed upon the words “resilient”, “sustainable” and “community”, presenting the importance of knowledge translation through collaborative learning and productive conversations.

The ‘Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities’ workshop on February 11th was facilitated by three graduate students from the UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning: Maria Trujillo, Aaron Lau and Emmy Ann Lee. It initiated an innovative and engaging conversation with the panelists and knowledge experts of the night: Ross Moster, Ericka Stephens-Rennie and Elvy del Bianco.

The main discussions of the night surrounded the questions of how “healthy communities promoting a sense of belonging, collaboration and happiness” can be created. The workshop provided a chance for students, alumni and Vancouverites to picture and plan out their perfect community, as well as the opportunity to learn from the panelists about the different community consolidating resources around Vancouver.

Constructing “connected and sociable communities” was discussed as the core step to building a better world, and the panelists of the night kindly shared their knowledge and passion in their respective community building efforts at the workshop.

The panelists and knowledge experts shared their achievements and passion for sustainable community building, consolidation and engagement with the workshop participants.

Founder and President of ‘Village Vancouver’ Ross Moster, is a committed member of ‘Car-free Vancouver’ and Vancouver’s food policy council – he had accumulated extensive efforts in areas such as food security, as well as collaborative neighbourhood villages and food growing networks.

Moster highlighted the importance of “connecting neighbours and community” to allow the exposure and exchanging of resources – generating a more sustainable and connected community at the local level.

Ericka Stephens-Rennie, spokesperson and resident with ‘Vancouver Co-housing,’ the first co-housing project in Vancouver scheduled to be unveiled in 2016, is passionate about inclusive “community-driven housing solutions,” which allows an effective perspective in sustainable, green multi-cohousing.

The multigenerational ‘Co-housing Vancouver’ project holds 31 units and fosters the physical environment for “meaningful connection and relationships”, as well as “authentic expression” and “a sense of safety and belonging” that can be generated through increased interactions between the residents.

Elvy del Bianco, program manager for cooperative partnerships at Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, discussed the technicality and mechanics of resilient community building. His experience as a policy analyst for various government projects provided a look into the local community development. Del Bianco’s efforts place focus upon cooperatives and networks that can effectively share expertise and forge powerful connections based on purpose-oriented cooperative models.

As the workshop and discussion began, participants were divided into the respective regions of the city: UBC, West Vancouver area and East Vancouver area. A printed map of each region was distributed at the beginning of the workshop, as well as pieces of coloured cards with various keywords to initiate group dialogue.

Participants residing in the same region then discussed among each other about the common facilities and infrastructures that they would like to build in their region, and then mapped them out on the printed map. This activity emphasized change and community building that can be done at the local level – it encourages the sharing and inputting of innovative ideas that can improve the respective regions and communities.

All participants were able to share and express creative ideas on improving the respective regions. They discussed extensively on sustainable or eco-friendly methods to engage local residents to better utilize communal spaces, as well as the resources and spaces where members of these local communities can engage and interact with one another.

The digitalization of South Korea’s education

Digital textbooks and e-learning resources have been steadily on the rise and becoming increasingly widespread, despite the heavy debates surrounding its implementation into traditional education. As conventional learning materials are replaced by tablets and other smart devices, the future of digitalization and educational technology becomes prevalent and fast-approaching.

One country that is demonstrating the all-pervasiveness of digitalized education is Asia’s leading tech hub – South Korea. Its high-achieving, accomplishment-pursuing attitudes towards youth education has earned its rightful place as one of the top achieving nations in various educational and IQ tests carried out worldwide.

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High school students cheering on peers at the ‘Suneung’ exam (Courtesy of

South Korea’s e-learning culture and its players

 In 2013, the South Korean government had announced its plans to implement an “educational paradigm shift”, known as ‘SMART education’. Rather than a blatant proclamation of loyalty towards digitalized resources for learning, the concept revolves around an acronymic slogan promoting a self-disciplined, motivated, and adaptive outlook on nationwide schooling.

South Korea’s ‘SMART education’ bears the ambitious mission of digitalizing education completely and wholly by 2015. Today, in 2016, the nation’s e-learning goals are evident. As high school students prepare for the College Scholastic Ability Test, or Suneung that takes place in November annually, it is clear that the vision to digitalize is well on track. Students diligently attend school during the day, and log in to their online classrooms as nighttime dawns.

Judy Suh’s 2012 award-winning short documentary ‘ExamiNation’ portrays the South Korean attitude towards education. Through the capturing of the average high school student’s hardworking, nose-in-book lifestyle, youth education is exposed as a cultural phenomenon in itself. The documentary follows final-year high school student Bitna Hwang and her repetitive musings at school, private cram centers, and dimly-lit studying cubicles where she spends hours doing practice exams and memorizing content. The average South Korean high school student spends 16 hours a day studying.

Amidst this nationwide emphasis on lengthy hours of study, where does technology fit in? Private tutoring expenditure in South Korea tops $20 billion annually, and is a thriving industry feeding off the rigorous lifestyles of diligent young students (and their parents). Online cram schools are a new, budding form of e-learning, allowing subject-specific content to be even more accessible than ever. A package membership allows full access to lecture videos, past papers, and online streaming schedules, encouraging the importance of self-directed study patterns that extend school hours.

Journeyman Pictures’ documentary on South Korea’s academic scene and sky-high teen suicide rates exposes the masterminds behind these online academies. They are profit-driven entrepreneurs who sport wacky costumes to make their lectures interesting in order to prevent students from falling asleep due to strenuous hours of studying with devices in hand. Students typically spend more than 2 hours a day reviewing merely from online lectures. During the live streaming, up to 300,000 students nationwide are logged on and ready to learn.

The key is to “keep costs low and provide kids with good-quality online content”. It is clear that education has become a corporatized business tool with its elevated demand. The people’s attitudes towards youth education, paired with the culture of online and after school tutoring reflects not only the competitive, dog-eat-dog nature of the local education system, but also the fast-advancing pervasiveness of digital learning outside the classroom.

North America’s Khan Academy – where does digitalized education stand?

Similarly, e-learning and digital education in North America are widespread. Cloud-based learning and information storage tools, as well as multimedia materials are becoming increasingly popularized. Online tutorial videos teaching various subjects such as science, mathematics, and economics are an example of the shifting education scene – from traditional paperbacks to digital learning.

SRI International’s study on the use of Khan Academy in North American schools showed that its role satisfied a “blended learning model”. Khan Academy is a popular academic website providing students with free instructional and tutorial videos on subjects such as mathematics, science, economics, and more. Its resources are used mainly in K-12 education within North America. The “blended learning model” is the combination of self-directed online study with instructor-led school-based learning, allowing students to enhance their knowledge on particular areas of study.

Khan Academy’s steady rise stipulates a shift of emphasis onto self-paced and self-directed learning that can prepare students for independent knowledge acquisition and research in university. During online study, students can practice newly-acquired skills from classroom-based instructed learning, and obtain a better grasp on areas in which they have trouble with. Thus, the “blended learning model” acts as not only a tool for teachers and instructors to track students’ learning curves, but also for students to monitor and pace their own learning progress.

As digitalized learning becomes an academic trend, it is important to evaluate the implications behind its popularization in order to utilize it to full potential. South Korea’s academic paradigm shift clarifies the connection between readily-available online education, and diligent attitudes that will lead to success. The use of technology as learning tools and why they are used is ultimately what constitutes as the culture of digital education.

An exploration into China’s pollution resolution

As of 2015’s concluding months, China’s air pollution problem has been hitting the headlines, serving as a constant reminder of its persistence and severity. Although 10 cities in China had been issued red alerts December last year, and announced unsafe for citizens to remain outdoors for prolonged periods, Greenpeace’s 2015 data reveals that PM 2.5 levels (particulate matter levels from coal combustion) in China had in fact dropped by 10%.

Premier Li Ke-Qiang was also said to be waging a “war with pollution”. Despite this unexpected reversal, most of the major Chinese cities maintain dangerous levels of smog and air quality. So, after all, is China in the process of improving air quality to meet international safety standards, and what are some of its measures due to be implemented in the near future?

To nobody’s surprise, as the world leaves 2015 behind and prepares for the dawn of 2016, Beijing’s smog levels also strike an all-time high, resulting in streets to be cleared and gas masks to be pulled out. China’s pollution problem has remained a tenacious one due to excessive coal-burning in local factories and power plants.

The multiple red alerts and smog-filled photographs issued last year are grabbing more international attention than ever. However, following Greenpeace’s 2015 report revealing China’s improving air quality, China had announced its termination in the constructing of new local coal mines within the next three years, as well as its plans of closing down up to 1,000 mines in correspondence to its persistent pollution problem. China’s coal ban and declining coal consumption is a heavily persuasive progress in its journey to cleaner and safer air.

Morning smog makes things a little less clear (Courtesy of


What are some of China’s measures for improving air quality?

It has been revealed that China had devised multiple plans to keep smog levels in check, which are possible reasons behind the decreasing levels of particulate matter. Apart from the central government’s efforts to decrease pollution levels, provincial governments in China are also warming up to join the pollution resistance, and this was an ongoing process since 2014.

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China presents flying parafoil drones: unmanned bots with wings and chemical parachutes that are equipped with particulate-clearing technologies. These drones will be tested in major Chinese cities, and are useful resources for surveillance, disaster relief, and as an integrated tool in agriculture. Furthermore, the central government had been encouraging its citizens to abandon their cars, and to replace them with riding bikes and walking, as well as implementing 25-year environment laws and tax breaks to boost the market of eco-friendly green cars.

If China had all these proposals under their belt, the process of relieving pollution and improving air quality should be a quicker and more effective one than it is at the moment. Why have red alerts for hazardous smog levels been issued all over the country, even after these measures have taken place?

The Diplomat states that China still “faces problems in implementing and enforcing these proposals”, pinpointing its improper operating of pollution control units and realized difficulties of catching and convicting non-compliance scattered nationwide. The Tianjin explosion that happened last summer would be a case on point, as it had created a leakage of toxic cyanide chemicals that infiltrated a populated residential and commercial area in the city. Within the warehouse, discrepancies in the storage content reports were noted by Tianjin’s State Administration of Work Safety, and authorities did not find out what the warehouse contained until after the incident.

Greenpeace’s data conveys that China has been making progressive efforts that led to a perceivable drop in its PM 2.5 levels last year. It is clear that although China has theoretical ideas and measures since 2014 to lower pollutant levels and clear the atmosphere of smog and dirt, implementing them would require rigorous efforts, intricate organization, as well as increased funding.