Student blends the art of science with entrepreneurship

Rouhani founded ExonScientific, a 3D design company, with the goal of helping scientists better communicate their research through scientific art and design

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, University of Georgia student Daniel Rouhani had to rethink his research so that he could continue his work as a CURO Summer Fellow. Then something occurred to him. “Recent discoveries in COVID-19 emerged, and I noticed the lack of accurate visualizations available to explain the complexity of the disease,” he said.

Following this intuition, Rouhani taught himself how to 3D model and visualize COVID-19 proteins over the summer after his freshman year.

The image he created became one of the most internationally referenced visualizations of the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein. It was the best image on Google images and was referenced in Forbes Magazine. Soon, scientists from across the academic community were reaching out to him to create visualizations for their own research.

Rohani’s image of the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein.

“I was shocked by the impact I was able to create with an image,” said Rouhani. “At such a critical time in science and medicine, I was able to do my part to change the way we look at COVID-19.”

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Rouhani, who specializes in genetics, began studying at UGA when he was in high school and worked in the lab of Janet Westpheling, a professor in UGA’s Department of Genetics.

“The idea of ​​translating a protein structure into beautiful images was really visionary,” says Westpheling.

The positive response to Rouhani’s images inspired him to found ExonScientific, a 3D design company. Its goal is to give scientists the opportunity to better communicate their research through scientific art and design.

He turned to the UGA Center for Entrepreneurship for guidance and took the Idea Accelerator Program, an eight-week course that gives students access to successful entrepreneurs, consultants and investors to help them with customer discovery, strategic planning, generation of revenue and key development support contacts.

Rouhani participated in the Idea Accelerator Program in the UGA Innovation District. (submitted photo)

Rouhani also developed his business through the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program in the UGA Innovation District.

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“It has been an incredible experience to be part of a cohort of students and faculty all involved in bringing products to market,” said Rouhani.

Since founding his own company, Rouhani has collaborated with over 30 academic institutions, including the NIH. He has featured images in more than 50 scientific news articles and on the cover of 10 peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Rouhani’s art has been featured on the covers of scholarly journals.

Ultimately, Rouhani wants to study medicine to become a surgeon. Last summer he did an internship with a team of plastic and reconstructive surgeons as part of a clinical study investigating adhesive wound dressings. The internship led to Rouhani being the lead author of an upcoming research paper.

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“Research is the first step in improving health standards and medicine,” Rouhani said. “Improving healthcare starts at the bottom, and examining the problems in our system shows how we can create change.”

In his free time, Rouhani enjoys making music, painting and giving back to his community. He volunteers as the administrative co-coordinator of the Clarkston Community Health Center Vision Clinic, which serves the uninsured and underserved residents of Clarkston, Georgia.

“Clarkston is known as the most diverse square mile in the United States,” Rouhani said. “As home to thousands of refugees displaced as a result of the many global conflicts, Clarkston is dear to my heart as my father and grandmother were also refugees who fled Iran because of the revolution.”

Rouhani grew up in Athens and said he didn’t see the value of living near a university. “Now I can’t imagine going anywhere else,” he said.

Upon graduation, Rouhani plans to take a gap year to continue his clinical research and work with ExonScientific before entering medical school.

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