ΦKΦ Member Spotlight

Marla Elsea
Nov 24, 2021

Ali Akbari grew up in Shiraz, Iran, and moved to the capital of Tehran to begin his higher education journey at Sharif University of Technology. While there, he earned a bachelor's and master's degree in mechanical engineering with a focus on biomechanics. He now lives in California and is working on his Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis where he was initiated into Phi Kappa Phi in 2019.

As a routinely high-ranking student, he capped his master's program by earning Master's Thesis of the Year from the Iranian Society of Mechanical Engineers. Though he currently works as a graduate student researcher at the Hyundai Center of Excellence at the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department at UC Davis, his passion lies in physics. "The thought of black holes and interstellar travel is what keeps me awake at night," he said.

Growing up in Shiraz – the originating home of the wine by the same name – Ali developed a love of music, soccer, physics and Persian cuisine. He enjoys playing guitar, singing and cooking. "I make a mean celery stew," he shared.

Let's get to know Ali!

Why did you accept the invitation to join Phi Kappa Phi?
When I opened the invitation email, I was with a friend who had gone to UC Davis as an undergraduate, and she encouraged me to join while stating that it could help me when I begin career hunting. I took her advice, and two years later, here I am! I find the idea of academic recognition quite appealing, as it has been my forte all these years – some might say my only forte. LOL! Membership also gives me a sense of community that transcends typical social boundaries and focuses on knowledge as a core value which is how I have always viewed science, and I appreciate how Phi Kappa Phi preserves this notion.

What is the best gift you have been given?
On Dec. 8, 2018, I attended a Metallica concert in Sacramento, and the frontman, James Hetfield, threw his guitar pick in the crowd. I jumped up with all the energy I could muster and caught it midair! To this day, I consider that pick among my most valued possessions. 

Who is your hero and why?
Sir Isaac Newton, beyond any doubt, for how he single-handedly changed the entire course of history by introducing new perspectives in almost every field of physics. He created the language for all science, established well-observable laws for motion out of pure genius, and developed a universal theory of gravity that only another genius like Albert Einstein could contradict some 200 years later – all before turning 26! To do all that and remain humble enough to say, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants" is beyond me, and I find that utterly inspiring.

What is your favorite game or sport to watch?
Soccer, or as we call it like the rest of the world, football. My favorite team is, and has been since I was 6 years old, Brazil's National Football Team, who are the only five-time champions of the FIFA World Cup.

What motivates you to work hard?
Truth be told, my current motivation is graduating and ascending to the lifestyle of a person with an actual job rather than the lifestyle my graduate student researcher position offers. LOL! For the future, I have always dreamt of creating an equation that would bear my name and ultimately be my epitaph. That sounds like the ultimate legacy and a reason to work tirelessly until it has come to fruition.

What are your hobbies?
I do weekly karaoke at G-Street Wunderbar here at UC Davis. That's my most recent hobby, and I think it could become something more in the years to come. I also play metal guitar which I find quite soothing despite not having practiced in a while and having lost my not so great edge. LOL! I'm not sure if this last one qualifies as a legit hobby, but I read on quantum mechanics occasionally and confuse myself with ideas bigger than my head and somehow get a kick out of it.

What is your favorite food or type of cuisine?
My all-time favorite is my grandma's Persian cuisine, God rest her soul, and after that my mom's! However, having my self-made food for the last four years has enabled me to genuinely appreciate other types of cuisine. I'm not a bad cook, as my guests have declared, but somehow the food others make always tastes better. In the international league, I like Mexican, French, Indian and Italian cuisines.

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever been on?
New York City. The city has given me generously exhilarating experiences every time I have visited, and I passionately look forward to my next visit.

What makes you feel accomplished?
Recognition by others, such as this interview. It's kind of dangerous to have one's feelings of accomplishment depend on others' evaluations and feedback, but it's been what I’m used to, and I find it difficult to escape. LOL!

What are you most thankful for?
I’m thankful for my very kind, erudite, honest parents who taught me the value of all three said characteristics.

What are your top three favorite movies?
I'm going to cheat on this one by listing my three favorite trilogies. They are The Lord of The Rings trilogy, The Godfather trilogy, and The Matrix trilogy.

To learn more about Ali and connect, visit his profile within our online member community, here.

Is there someone you would like to see in the spotlight? Send your nomination to and be sure to include basic information for the nomination.