Ghazal Nourian: Absence of ‘a great presence’

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The youngest of three children, Ghazal Nourian was enfolded throughout her life by family whose goal was to provide a foundation for “the best future for her,” recalled her brother, Peyman Nourian.

Their collective hope lay in North America, and Gazhal’s family ­– brother Peyman, sister Saghar and their widowed mother Mina – together supported her choice of Western.

London, Ont., was a long way from their home in Tehran ­where Ghazal had just earned her master’s degree from Sharif University of Technology, Iran’s top engineering school. But Western offered a fresh perspective for the young researcher, as well as proximity to her sister, who had earned her doctorate in Washington, D.C., and now worked as a chemist there.

Ghazal was both driven and excited by the prospect of coming here.

In the span of just a few months, she studied for and passed the English proficiency exam, found a research supervisor, prepared the necessary documents, packed and flew to Canada, registered at Western and found an apartment in London.

“She (was) really happy from the atmosphere and the nice people in Canada,” said Peyman Nourian in an email. “I and my mom, we were happy too, knowing both sisters are close to each other and their future will be perfect.”

Ghazal Nourian, 26, was working towards a PhD in Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and was one of four Western students who lost their lives when Flight PS752 from Tehran airport was shot down, killing all 176 people aboard.

“She was a highly motivated, enthusiastic, and hard-working student,” said her advisor, Mechanical & Materials Engineering professor Eric Johlin. “She was always positive and cheerful, and a great presence in the group. We will miss her dearly.”

Her initial research project was to develop a new technique in the lab to create 3D nanostructures to design new solar cell configurations. When she learned the lab itself wouldn’t be ready for a few months, she asked if she could get started on writing a review paper about the background of the technique.

“Ghazal’s motivation to initiate this work on her own really made clear to me that she was not just interested in finishing her degree, but truly cared about her work and wanted to excel here,” Johlin said.

“The other really remarkable thing about Ghazal was her optimism and enthusiasm. She always seemed cheerful when we talked and was happy and thankful to receive feedback on her work.”

In late fall, she let her family know she would return to Tehran for a between-terms visit. Saghar decided to do the same, and the three siblings and their mother all had a joy-filled reunion, Peyman Nourian said.

Saghar’s plane flew out of Tehran on Jan. 6. Ghazal was booked to depart two days later.

Now, Peyman said, families of Flight PS752’s passengers, many of them students studying in Canada, are heartbroken. “They had traveled to visit the family, visited but never got back home. I say ‘home,’ because Canada was their real home.”

He said his family and Ghazal’s friends will always remember “her laugh, her eyes, her words and the past 26 years.”

He said his family is grateful to Western, and to all Canadians, for caring for his sister in her life and studies here, and in remembering her well in her passing.