Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi, ’17 MSc Engineering, was top-of-his-class at the prestigious Sharif University of Technology in Iran. After graduating, he waited more than a year for a visa so he could attend the U of A, where he completed his engineering master’s degree in 2017 in the challenging area of fluid turbulence.
To relax, he joined friends in Tetris competitions. He loved to hike, he played the guitar — and he took great joy in having spirited discussions about philosophical theories of learning.
Elyasi was among the 176 people killed when a Ukraine International Airlines flight crashed Jan. 8 a few minutes after takeoff from Tehran International Airport. Ten people from the U of A — students, professors and alumni — were among the victims of the crash.
Meysam Shojaeenejad, ’17 MA, met Elyasi in 2015 when the engineering student showed up in a philosophy class. Shojaeenejad says Elyasi admired him for following his heart to an arts degree.
The two became fast friends, with the scientist and the philosopher bonding over regular deep debates and intellectual conversations. “He was really interested in epistemology, the theory of knowledge, which is related also to some extent to the philosophy of science,” says Shojaeenejad.
“Because he was working as an engineer and dealing with some theories, he was always interested in the philosophy behind them.”
That fascination with theories echoes a compliment from Elyasi’s thesis supervisor, assistant professor Sina Ghaemi, who described his former student as a “hard-working and creative engineer.”
“Creative” is also an accurate description of Elyasi’s ability to solve problems, says Sen Wang, ’15 BSc(MechEng), ’18 MEng, a PhD student at the U of A who started his master’s degree around the same time as Elyasi.
“I think when you say creative, it’s almost like when you do an experiment,” he says. “We run into all different problems and Mohammad would always come up with some method to solve them.”
Being helpful was important to Elyasi. He helped teach English to refugees and he listed the U of A’s Student Volunteer Campus Community language lab among his volunteer activities. Wang says Elyasi had offered many times to take him hiking or to teach him to play guitar. He regrets that he never made the time to take him up on it.
“He really liked to help friends,” says Wang. “Like, some people would say ‘I’m going to help you’ but they don’t put in that much effort. He actually put all his effort into helping other people solve their problems.”
Elyasi left Edmonton after graduation, moving to the Toronto area where he put his skills in mechanical design and thermal fluid systems to work. About a year ago, he co-founded a startup called ID Green, which aims to use drones in an innovative crop monitoring service for potato farmers.
Even while lifting his own company off the ground, Elyasi continued to work elsewhere, Shojaeenejad says. “Running a start-up needs money and because we do not have money on our own or from our families, we have to have another job to support ourselves,” he says. “He was a motivated person.”
And when Shojaeenejad experienced difficult times, it was Elyasi who gave him the confidence to get through. “He was a good friend to me and I believe that he was a good friend for many other people,” he says.
“He was really special. He was one of a kind.”