July 2022 - BME Blaze: Niloufar Saharkhiz

Jul 01 2022

In this monthly spotlight, get to know the alumni and students of Columbia's Department of Biomedical Engineering. Read what our BME folks are up to, from our labs' latest research, to our students' plans for the future, to our teams' innovations, start-ups and other career successes.

We enjoyed catching up with Columbia BME PhD candidate Niloufar Saharkhiz, as she discussed her experience as a Columbia BME grad student. Read below to get to know Niloufar!


Niloufar Saharkhiz



  • Ph.D. Candidate in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University
  • M.Phil., Master of Philosophy, Columbia University, (New York, USA), 2019
  • M.Sc., Biomedical Engineering, Imperial College London, (London, UK), 2015
  • B.S., Electrical Engineering, Iran University of Science and Technology, (Tehran, Iran), 2014


Where are you from?

I am from Tehran, Iran. I moved to London, UK to get my M.Sc. degree and then to New York, US to study Ph.D. I have lived on three continents so far and still counting ...


What drew you to the field of Biomedical Engineering?

Inspired by an all-engineer family, I was always interested in solving mathematical and physical problems. I was curious about electronic devices and would take any chance to open them up to see what was going on inside. Therefore, I studied electrical engineering - electronics as an undergrad to make my knowledge more specialized and comprehensive. I gradually became familiar with the biomedical engineering (BME) field through the seminars and course projects. BME was the field through which I could contribute to the health care area that I was always passionate about but didn’t see the potential to become a clinician. A turning point occurred when I built an ultrasound receiver device as the final undergrad project. I was determined that the intersection between mathematics, physics, and biology was the field in which I wanted to pursue research and continue my education.


What is your current role?

I am a Ph.D. candidate at the Ultrasound Elasticity and Imaging Laboratory (UEIL) under the supervision of Professor Elisa Konofagou. I am developing an ultrasound-based clinical system for the characterization of different breast tumors based on their mechanical properties, as well as for monitoring the changes of breast tumors in response to chemotherapeutic treatments. In addition to preclinical studies, I am the lead engineer on two clinical studies, where we closely collaborate with clinicians at the department of surgery, department of oncology, department of radiology, and department of pathology at the Columbia University Irving Medical Campus (CUIMC).


Why did you choose Columbia BME?

The main reason is my current Ph.D. advisor, Professor Elisa Konofagou, a leader in the field of medical ultrasound. As a master’s student at the BME department of Imperial College London, I had worked on an ultrasound-based imaging technique, so I was pretty familiar with the field when I was applying for the Ph.D. program. In addition, through my master’s advisor, a Columbia alumnus, I specifically knew about the research conducted at Professor Konofagou’s lab. Therefore, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do during my Ph.D. studies. Also, being a Ph.D. student at Columbia comes with 5+ years of living in NYC! Who doesn’t like that?!


What are some of your favorite projects/memories from the program so far?

My favorite things at Columbia are the lab and my amazing labmates! We have a collaborative environment in our lab which I think is an essential part of the program. It is impossible to do research without the help and ideas of your peers. I also enjoy our discussions during the lunch breaks on both scientific and non-scientific topics. So, of course, my best memories from the program are the times I spent with them, especially during the conferences that we traveled to together. As an international student, it feels great to know that you can always count on good friends sitting right next to you in the same lab.  


What is your proudest moments at Columbia so far?

My proudest moment so far is when I successfully imaged a patient with a breast tumor with our ultrasound device. It is a unique experience to see that a project you have been working on for months (years!) is translated into clinical practice and used in a real-world scenario!


Any words of wisdom or tips for prospective BME students?

Columbia has a multidisciplinary approach to biomedical engineering. Many clinicians and researchers at different departments of Columbia University are interested in what we are doing as engineers and are eager to collaborate with us and bridge the gap between engineering and medicine. Use the various available recourses while you are at Columbia. 

There will be occasions when things do not go as planned during your studies and research. Be ready to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone as needed. Although it is always easier to take a less risky path that is within your comfort zone, successfully challenging yourself brings joy and fulfillment. Also, next time, it will give you confidence as you know your capabilities that can go beyond your imagination!


What are you excited about?

I am excited to see my Ph.D. work in clinical practice and contribute to public health through the skills and knowledge I gained in graduate studies over the past few years. 


Columbia has a multidisciplinary approach to biomedical engineering. Many clinicians and researchers at different departments of Columbia University are interested in what we are doing as engineers and are eager to collaborate with us and bridge the gap between engineering and medicine.

Niloufar Saharkhiz
Columbia BME PhD Candidate

Images (clockwise from top):

  1. Konofagou’s lab Halloween costume contest, 2021
  2. BME holiday party, 2018
  3. Konofagou’s lab at IEEE IUS conference, Washington, D.C., 2017
  4. Farewell celebration for a lab alumnus, 2018


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