FEZANA Spring Issue 2018: Emerging Leader Cyrus Hirjibehedin


Cyrus obtained his B.S. in Physics & Computer Science from Stanford University and an M.A & M.Phil and Ph.D. from Columbia University.
Cyrus joined the IBM Almaden Research Center as a Postdoctoral Scientist. He taught at UCLA as Assistant & Associate Professor before moving to University College London as Full Professor. He moved back to the US and joined the Technical Staff at MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

Cyrus has published 47 research publications, given over a 100 presentations, has one patent and numerous awards including the Bravo
Team Award and Outstanding Innovation Award from IBM Almaden Research Center; Award of Merit from Stanford University.

Motivation, Leadership & Aspirations: “In the late 1800s, scientists began to believe that they were close to having a complete understanding of all of the fundamental laws of physics, though a small number of troublesome inconsistencies remained. Only a few decades later, the exploration of these problems led Einstein and others to a series of revolutionary breakthroughs and resulted in the development of quantum theory, which has implications that are as profound as they are counter intuitive. While quantum theory has been spectacularly successful at describing nature, scientists and engineers have only recently been developing the technology to harness its full potential for practical applications. My goal professionally is to help drive this process forward in two ways: to illuminate more of the beautiful fundamentals of quantum theory and to develop practical applications that use quantum theory to benefit humanity. In addition, I also believe that it is equally important to communicate the importance of scientific and technological advances to a variety of audiences, from experts in relevant fields to members of the general public.

I led highly successful research groups at the University College London, with an appointment in the London Centre for Nanotechnology, to study the extraordinary quantum mechanical properties of structures made one atom at a time. Over the past decade, my collaborative and multidisciplinary approach has enabled me to successfully obtain over $21 million of funding from a broad range of sponsors, and to produce and disseminate high impact research results that are relevant to physicists, chemists, and material scientists.

I have been active in the Zoroastrian community in all three places that I have lived for extended periods of time: New York, the Bay Area in Northern California, and London. Currently, I participate in events organized by the Zoroastrian Association of Greater Boston Area (ZAGBA), including a recent Interfaith Thanksgiving Meal-packaging Service Project. While in the UK, as a board member of both Stanford and Columbia UK alumni associations, I arranged a cross-cultural event to let both Stanford alumni and local Zoroastrians go on a guided tour of the amazing Everlasting Flame exhibition on Zoroastrian culture and heritage at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

My professional aspiration is to drive the scientific community to make discoveries that will have a revolutionary positive impact on people’s lives. At a direct level, this involves continuing to do cutting edge research and also taking that research through the development process to turn it into practical applications. On a broader scale, I also hope to continue training and mentoring the next generation of scientists, whether in local schools, universities, or companies. Some of them will go on to make the next series of research discoveries, while others will become leaders in both industry and government. All of them will have equally important roles to play in ensuring that science and technology continue to have a positive influence on human lives, and that the broader non-scientific community appreciates the importance of these endeavors.”

What makes you tick, and steps you would take to enable you to attain your leadership ambitions? “Beyond dedication and hard work, I believe the keys to leading a successful venture – in research or any other area – are having a broad and inclusive perspective, building diverse partnerships, and clearly communicating ideas. Although my own academic training is primarily in the areas of physics and computer science, I have found that some of the most exciting opportunities for research come at the boundaries of different fields. The questions at these interfaces are often too complex to be solved within the framework of a single discipline, and therefore require strong collaboration with people from different communities. My personal research interests now span multiple fields – including physics, chemistry, materials science, and nanotechnology – and I have initiated and managed more than 20 partnerships in the U.S., Europe, and Asia to provide access to novel materials, perform complementary experiments, and produce advanced theoretical calculations.

Successful communication with different team members, as well as with other stakeholders such as senior management and funding agencies, requires understanding their different backgrounds and perspectives as well as learning to speak in different ‘languages’ (physicists and chemists often use completely different words to describe the same concept) and within the context of different cultures and motivations. By leveraging these basic concepts, I plan to continue to successfully pursue my leadership ambitions in both my professional and personal life.”

Article Reference: FEZANA Spring Issue 2018