Updated: Aug 2, 2021
by Yasemin Akçagüner
Rasmi Elasmar, CC ’17, will hopefully graduate from Columbia with a concentration in Math this May (“They don’t tell you this, but you can graduate with just a concentration”) despite having put down Astrophysics, Computer Science and Math as his triple majors and Stats as his concentration back in sophomore year. Rasmi, whose first name means “formal” or “official” in Arabic, finds his name oxymoronic. “If anything, I’m the opposite of formal.”
Rasmi also never goes to class, and is on academic probation this semester. “I guess after sophomore year, I gave up on academic classes as a meaningful way of learning. I’ll go to class and stop paying attention or fall asleep or something. I feel like I can teach myself better.” Yet despite his apparent indifference to conventional academic success, he’s interned everywhere from Tesla to Microsoft, meanwhile paying off his student debt financially independent from his family.
Rasmi is from sunny Los Angeles, which I should have guessed from the flip-flops he was wearing on an early October afternoon at Max Caffe. He grew up in a Palestinian household but became estranged from his family by the end of high school. “I grew up with that classic first-generation problem in America where you have this culture gap between your parents and yourself. So I’m not really close to my family anymore. I had kind of a rift my last year of high school.” Rasmi is also distanced from the Arab cultural scene on campus. When I initially asked him where he was from, he said, jokingly, “I’m Palestinian. Don’t say that out loud.” Breaking off from his family also led to him disengaging with Arab culture at large.
The hardest part of writing Rasmi’s profile is the absolute absence of a curated personality on his part. Over the course of our conversation he shared everything from his coital cephalalgia to his research on black holes.
At Columbia Rasmi has worked in a number of astrophysics research projects. “We just model dark matter and the expansion of the universe and stuff like that.” he says casually of the work he does in a research lab with Professors Greg Bryan and Lam Hui.
“The structure of the universe is mostly dictated by dark matter and we don’t really know how it behaves super well but it turns out you can model it as a fluid, but there are small tweaks you have to make. So we’re working on those small tweaks.”
Despite his research background, Rasmi doesn’t want to pursue astrophysics in a professional capacity. “I used to really care a lot about the universe and now I’m apathetic to it. I used to want to go to grad school but it’s not for me.”
Rasmi is hoping to get into civic technology after graduation, using technology for social good. “If I did a start-up thing it would have to do with making cities work better.” Rasmi envisions making NYC a fully pedestrian city with no cars on the streets and a very robust public transportation system. “Imagine all the space you could reclaim through the streets, you could solve the housing crisis.”
Beyond everything, Rasmi says he would love to be a “pop scientist” and follow in the footsteps of Carl Sagan. He is certainly making the right kinds of friends for the job—Rasmi’s Instagram boasts several photographs of him with Neil deGrasse Tyson. “If I accidentally became a pop scientist, that’d be cool. I don’t know if you can just pursue that.”