BPK grad Donya Divsalar brings an interdisciplinary perspective to aerospace research

October 06, 2022

Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology MSc alumnus Donya Divsalar is passionate about space, but it wasn’t always clear that this would be a career she would be able to pursue.

“I was born in a country with little access to aerospace as a career,” she says. “There was major bias for only men to go into aerospace fields.”

Divsalar originally set out to study medicine, and it wasn’t until she arrived at SFU that she found opportunities to combine her studies in physiology with her passion for aerospace.

She joined the student-led SFU Satellite Design team in 2018, where she began to find ways to adapt her medical training to aerospace. “I was fascinated by the concept of developing student-made satellites, however, I felt like there needed to be more. That’s when I decided to design and implement biomedical payloads for CubeSats for uncrewed and automated execution of scientific experiments.”

Her exploration of space and health put her on a path toward an MSc, working with Dr. Andrew Blaber’s Aerospace Physiology Laboratory, where she has worked on multiple Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency astronaut health and medicine projects.

Divsalar is one of the founding members of SFU Aerospace, a student club that aims to make aerospace fields accessible to students from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines. “The founding team of SFU Aerospace are the ones who taught me the most complicated concepts in spacecraft design in a language that made sense to me, as a non-technical member,” she says, and she is eager to share that knowledge with others. “As we like to say: bring your passion for aerospace, we got the rest covered.”

Outside of SFU Divsalar serves as an ambassador for the Canadian Space Agency, delivering talks and encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to get involved in aerospace. She has recently founded a biotech start-up, Caidin Biotechnologies, which develops technologies to improve human health in extreme environments.

Still, taking a non-traditional approach has had its challenges. “The biggest lesson I had to learn was to slow down and focus on one step at a time,” she says. “It is very easy to feel like you’re not doing enough, especially in a fast-evolving field like aerospace and coming from a non-technical background. I had to learn to be okay with my progress and learn that what I had to offer was unique and valuable in its own way.”