It was a sunny and pleasant spring day in Dezful, a small city in the south part of Iran. There were not many people on the street but I remember a young teenager pedalling slowly on his bike. I remember him because a moment later he was decapitated by a piece of metal when an Iraqi missile hit the neighbourhood.
His headless body pedalled for a while before falling to the ground. Everything in that moment registered in my brain like a scene in slow motion.
In shock, all I was thinking was: “Wow! How can the body balance without the brain? The body’s motion must have also been programmed in the spinal cord!”
It was spring of 1981 and I was 20 at the time, a second year university student with no background in biology or human physiology. A year earlier, I wanted to become a nuclear physicist and work on a Nobel Prize winning project. Then the war between Iran and Iraq started and the universities closed. I went to the Red Cross and to hospitals to learn first aid and then to the fronts to help with the war casualties.
The war scenes — and particularly the teenage cyclist on that particular day — made me decide to become a biomedical engineer.