The OnTrack Podcast welcomes Zaheer Ali, manager of safety, quality, and software product assurance for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Zaheer is a research physicist specializing in electron transport and nuclear radiation detection and has a background as a MEMS engineer. He co-founded the National Center for Nuclear Security while working at the US Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site. Zaheer shares his wealth of experience with our listeners and offers some sage advice to Electrical Engineers as we move toward a more modular, degradable, interconnected world.

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Show Highlights

  • Zaheer Abbas Ali is a research physicist by education and training, specializing in electron transport and nuclear radiation detection, but while pursuing his education, he also took a tremendous number of Electrical and Nuclear Engineering classes. 
  • Zaheer has over 10,000 hours "in the fab" and spent part of his career consulting as a micro/nano device (MEMS) engineer.
  • While working for the US Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site, Zaheer co-founded the National Center for Nuclear Security.
  • Zaheer also worked a two year assignment as Principal Investigator and Shot Director at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics of the University of Rochester. 
  • Zaheer currently works as the Product Assurance Manager for SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a project made possible through NASA’s partnership with the German Aerospace Center (also known as Deutsches Zentrum für Luft, or DLR)
  • We know what SOFIA stands for, but what is SOFIA exactly?
    SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft which carries a reflecting telescope into the stratosphere at 38,000-45,000 feet, putting is above the vast majority of our planet’s infrared-blocking atmosphere. This provides a means for astronomers to study our skies in ways that are simply not possible using ground-based telescopes. 
  • SOFIA’s  ability to fly above the troposphere, gives it access to a vew which is unobstructed by water and aerosols, so transmission is 99.99%!
  • Zaheer also works with USRA (University Space Research Association), the subcontractor to NASA AMES Research Center, which is located in Mountain View, California.
  • At DesignCon, Zaheer’s discussion focused on his colleague’s work on SOFIA, in a talk titled ‘Microships in Space: How Device Design Enables Amazing Astronomy’.
  • Zaheer also served on a panel at DesignCon, discussing ‘How Device Design can Drive Progress in Industry 4.0’.
  • Zaheer’s advice to EEs is to, moving forward, focus on modularity and upgradeability on the hardware side—these are critical for the longevity of systems and capabilities, and he believes demand for these features from commercial and consumer spaces will only increase as time goes on. 
  • Zaheer also notes the additional trend in which the number of IoT devices an average person interacts with on a daily basis will increase by an order of magnitude over the next 5-10 years, placing a huge emphasis on board and device design for IoT.


Zaheer Linkedin
Helium Hydride SOFIA
SOFIA reveals new view of Milky Way
NASA Spinoff
Article featuring Orbit Fab’s Space Gas Station
In God we trust, Everyone else, bring data.


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