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Portrait Dr. Narjes Malekjani (c) Jana Dünnhaupt Uni Magdeburg
31.08.2023 from 
Research + Transfer
How to use AI for food and medicine production

Scientists and scholars from all over the world keep coming to Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg thanks to an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship. With its research fellowship, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation supports postdoctoral fellows and experienced scientists of all disciplines in their research projects in Germany. A fellowship from the Foundation is considered a high honor for both the recipient and the host. Currently, Prof. Dr. Evangelos Tsotsas from the Institute of Process Engineering is hosting Dr. Narjes Malekjani from Iran. Lisa Baaske spoke to the Humboldt Fellow about her research, her goals and what it means to her to be a Humboldtian.

Where do you come from? What did you study? Where did you study? What have you done so far?

My name is Narjes Malekjani. I received my Ph.D. at the University of Tehran, the most prestigious and first-ranked university in Iran on 2017 in the field of Food Engineering, and after that, I worked as a university professor at the University of Guilan (my hometown), Iran from 2018-2023. In addition to teaching at university, I did many scientific research projects and published more than 40 scientific papers and book chapters in international journals and books. Also, I served as an editor in two books that have been published by the well-known publisher “Elsevier” in 2023.

How did you get to the University of Magdeburg – to the research group of Professor Tsotsas?

There were many challenges that existed for me as a woman researcher in my country. I also was the mother of a child and my husband had to work in another city, but I didn’t give up on working hard. The more I worked as a researcher, the fewer rewards, respect, and facilities I got from my environment. Unfortunately, there was no space for practical research and experiments in my favorite research fields and I was being suppressed and losing my passion for research. So, I got to the big decision of migrating and leaving my country for a better life and seeking a position to extend my knowledge practically in an environment where I can benefit from the top professionals in this field. I searched for the institutions that perform research in my favorite fields and found the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the chair of Thermal Process Engineering at the Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg and Professor Evangelos Tsotsas which were the right place and person for developing my studies because all facilities and knowledge that I need for my research were provided by the mentioned chair. After a lot of emails and online meetings with Professor Tsotsas, we finalized a very interesting research topic, and I got a two year fellowship from the Humboldt Foundation.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the Humboldt Family?

Humboldt Foundation was very supportive in every process of this journey, especially in getting the visa which is very challenging in Iran. Being a Humboldtian is very valuable for me because I think I can benefit from being a member of this family in my future carrier.

Dr. Narjes Malekjani in the lab (c) Jana Dünnhaupt Uni MagdeburgDr. Narjes Malekjani in the lab (Photo: Jana Dünnhaupt / Uni Magdeburg)

How would you explain your research to a layperson?

As you know, artificial intelligence is a world-leading emerging science that is progressing every day. My research is about the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning in modeling the spray drying process. Spray drying is the most commonly used method in the production of food powders, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. Production of high-quality food and pharmaceuticals with the aid of modeling and simulation techniques can be an effective way of reducing costs and experimental efforts. This process was done before using a complex, time-consuming physics-based method. In this project, for the first time in the literature of spray drying modeling, we want to apply a hybrid machine learning- physics-based modeling to predict the spray drying process.   The results of this study can be utilized in optimizing spray drying processes and designing soft sensors for controlling this process. This project can also help me to develop my skills both in the spray drying process and machine learning applications and utilize this information in developing my future projects in this field in academia and industry and finally as an academic, to fulfill my goal to have my own research group in this field to do research related to functional foods, and also pharmaceutical products.

How do you and your family like Magdeburg? Are you perhaps planning to stay in Magdeburg?

The University campus is a very friendly environment and the staffs are cooperative. The city is beautiful and everything around is green and blue. The clean weather, beautiful sky, and wonderful Elbe River near the campus make me very happy and relaxed to live here in Magdeburg. My family especially my little son also loves here. The only challenge I had was not knowing the German language because people in the city don’t speak English and I had some problems in official formalities. I have been here for less than one month and it is very soon to forecast about living here in Magdeburg in the future, but no one knows, let’s see what happens in the future!