For my beloved student
Saamer Akhshabi

Fundraising for Saamer's family -- Please help Saamer go home.

Speech at the memorial service for Saamer (Friday, March 7 2014, at Georgia Tech)

Farewell to Saamer

Saamer was born on April 1, 1987, in a beautiful area of North Iran called Tonekabon. He often told me that, as a child, he loved playing soccer at the beach of the Caspian Sea.

He studied Computer Engineering at the best university of Iran, the University of Tehran.

He joined our PhD program in Computer Science when he was only 22 years old, in August of 2009.

Saamer was a brilliant student and young researcher. The best student I have ever had.

Within the first year, he completed a groundbreaking study of the evolution of the Internet architecture. That publication appeared at the most selective conference in computer networking called ACM SIGCOMM.

Saamer has also contributed significantly in the area of Adaptive Video Streaming (this is the technology we all use every time we watch a Netflix movie, for instance). The research papers that he wrote in that area have been cited about 200 times within only 2-3 years. Additionally, this research has influenced the related products of companies such as Cisco, Adobe and others.

Saamer’s strongest interest however was interdisciplinary research. He wanted to combine computer science with other disciplines, especially biology, so that he can discover something that can actually help people. He admired Alan Turing, the father of Computer Science, because Turing had the same vision about the interdisciplinary role of Computer Science (Turing wrote a paper in 1952 about biological development --morphogenesis -- that has recently been validated experimentally by biologists). Saamer’s last research study was also an application of computational models in understanding the fundamental mechanisms behind biological development. I personally think that this last paper that Saamer wrote was his best, and that it will have significant impact in the years to come.

For me, Saamer was not only a good student. He was my collaborator, my partner in this amazing journey called Research. His sudden loss leaves me wondering, how can this journey continue now without Saamer’s passion and energy?

I am trying to answer this question asking: What would Saamer want me, want us, to do from now on? Would he want us to give up our dreams, be satisfied with just following others, pursue the easiest research problems? Or would he want us to keep learning, keep searching, pushing the envelope of what is known, crossing the boundaries of different disciplines? I believe he would passionately ask that we do the latter. This is Saamer’s legacy for me. I hope this will be Saamer’s legacy for you too.

One of the last things that Saamer said on that tragic day, February 4 2014, was that he wants to go home. I am sure that he is at home now, playing with a soccer ball at the beach of the Caspian Sea.

Saamer, I will never forget you for the rest of my life.

The formal announcement from Georgia Tech (March 6, 2014)

March 6, 2014

Saamer passed away this morning at about 3:30am at Grady hospital. His parents and some close friends were with him until the last moments.

I believe Saamer was fighting for more than a month, despite the odds, because he was waiting for his parents to arrive in Atlanta and say goodbye.

His parents have an incredible kindness, emotional strength and gratitude, even in this extremely difficult time. We cannot do anything for Saamer at this point, but we can at least offer some support to his family.

February 9, 2014

You may have heard by now that my PhD student Saamer Akhshabi was seriously burned on Tuesday Feb 4, 2014, at his apartment. He is still fighting for his life at Grady and he is undergoing surgery as I write this note.

The local TV stations presented this story in a way that is very misleading and far from the truth. Their headlines included "Molotov coctails", "terrorism" etc. I think that most people that watched those news, without knowing anything else, would easily reach the conclusion that Saamer is a future terrorist that was injured while building bombs..

The police investigation is still going on but I can assure you, based on everything I know so far, that the truth is very far from the previous story.

In my understanding, the real story is about a 26 year old young man that had not seen his family for 4.5 years (he, like most Iranian students, was given an one-entry F1 visa -- he knew that if he would go back home he would probably get stuck there). I also think that the real story is about our failure (my failure mostly) to detect that Saamer was deeply troubled about something.

So please, at least until this police investigation is completed, do not believe everything you hear about Saamer from the news.

The doctors told me that the last thing Saamer said before they sedate him was "I want to go home." Please pray for Saamer to go home one day.