Ali Mohammed
founder of fahrenheit99

 
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How are you involved in the department?
Currently, F99 is managing two community outreach projects; one involving the development of a podcast with many researchers from the department and the other involving a “life sciences immersion program” for a high school. In the latter, 3 groups of graduating high school students will get to visit the department as well as a couple of museums and libraries around campus. For more information (and on how you can get involved), I urge you to visit our website.
 
What is your passion?
Something other than science, medicine, and education would be Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I started last semester and it has added much needed movement in my day to day schedule. It’s a combat sport and because of this, it often involves a baggage of connotations.
 
For one, I am an undergraduate research student at a laboratory that studies bone biology. So, people get quite confused by the dichotomy: during the day, I am trying to contribute to our understanding of bone health with hopes of helping researchers and clinicians figure out ways to treat bone diseases. Later, I spend my evenings learning about different joint locks that can cause damage, dislocation, and bone fracture.
 
The key that helps me resolve this is that bone itself expresses this same contrast. Osteoblasts are cells that form bone while osteoclasts are cells that breakdown bone. Note, that both are required for proper health and growth.

Tell us about yourself
My name is Ali Mohammed and I am the founder of Fahrenheit 99 (F99); a community outreach initiative that I have started with Dr. Quim Madrenas, the former Chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. The main long-term goal of this project is to facilitate story-telling from the world of the life sciences.

Personally, I find it rewarding to interact with youth groups. It’s very hard initially because you need to justify why biology is interesting. Indeed, quite amusingly, you need to show the evidence for that argument.

Take the cliché statement “the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell”. It’s often referenced as a token of the impractical facts that we must memorize. In March 2016, however, everyone got to witness the impact of mitochondria on the “real world” when Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium. She was subsequently suspended from playing tennis.  What does meldonium do?  Amongst other things, it targets that powerhouse of the cell. 
 
Once you establish a culture of “anyone can appreciate the complexities of biology” (i.e. once they understand the problems that researchers are trying to solve), that’s when their interest peaks. You can see it in their eyes, there’s a certain spark and, of course, you always get the most interesting questions which often you can’t answer.
 
What do you like about the department/the program?
I am majoring in Anatomy and Cell Biology but I spend a lot of time, because of F99, working with professors, students, and staff from MIMM.
 
There’s a pattern which I have noticed in both departments and that is the increasing concern that surrounds the quality of education which undergrads like me are receiving. It’s a full-time passion for some, like Dr. Claire Trottier who is the education specialist in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
 
It’s a good feeling to know that any voiced feedback is taken seriously; that there are people that genuinelycare about this and are looking for ways to improve the program.