Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Ali Navi

Computational Systems Biologist

Biosciences and Biotechnology Division

July 8, 2021

What do you like about working at the Lab?

Our projects always aim to answer major national or global concerns. The work never seems trivial or mundane. Best of all, I get to work with diverse groups of experts from a variety of scientific fields.

What do your day-to-day work activities include?

On a typical day, I go to meetings, read new scientific literature, and develop models that simulate behavior of complex biological systems. The meetings involve discussions with colleagues about the progress of our projects and our future goals. It could also involve mentoring postdocs and summer graduate students. While I relish developing genome-scale models of biosystems, I also enjoy developing new modeling methodologies.

What is one project you’re really proud to have worked on?

I'm proud of all the work that I've done at LLNL. As I said before, all of our projects aim to tackle important problems. However, my favorite project was developing a genome-scale model of metabolism in Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of bubonic plague. It was the first-ever model of a CDC category A pathogen. Using a slide that showed bubonic plague has been responsible for more human death than all human wars combined was the best attention getter I've ever used in any of my presentations.

What is your educational or career background?

I have a BS in chemistry from the University of Maryland, an MS in inorganic physical chemistry from University of North Dakota, and a PhD in biophysical chemistry from Indiana University. After graduate school, I spent two years as a postdoctoral scholar at Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco modeling and examining the regeneration of rhodopsin in human rods. I have been at LLNL since 2006.

What inspired you to go into science?

As a teenager, I was fascinated with the use of radiocarbon dating to study the age of historical artifacts. Early on as an undergrad I decided to study radiochemistry. However, I quickly realized that I loved physical chemistry more and changed my specialty. When I went to graduate school at Indiana University, I decided to make biophysical chemistry my focus. One day my supervisor showed me a map of the metabolic pathways and asked: “How would you like developing a mathematical model of this?” I loved the complexity of the problem and knew immediately that I had found my scientific passion.

What advice would you give to a new employee at the Lab?

Don't be afraid to try new things. If you don't get out of your comfort zone, you will not learn and grow. The Lab is interested in your potential just as much as your experience and skillset. Most important of all, use your early years to develop an expansive network that includes contacts in various Lab directorates.

What do you do in your free time?

I'm a father of two, so my favorite activity is spending time with my wife and kids. I also enjoy hiking, playing soccer, gardening, playing Civilization, watching hockey, and rooting for my beloved Washington Capitals.

Learn more about Ali: