Hadis Hayatdavoudi: ‘Like losing a family member’

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To Chemistry professor Jamie Noël’s mind and memory, Hadis Hayatdavoudi will always be the courageous, smiling student who first knocked on his office door to start PhD studies in September 2018.

“There she is, this young woman coming from halfway around the world, on her own, to a completely different culture and a completely different language, smiling and saying, ‘Here I am, your student.’ ”

He greeted her in some elementary Farsi phrases he had learned from other Persian students. “She giggled when I did that. She thought it was quite funny that she would come all this way from Iran and someone would greet her in Farsi. To her, it made her so happy to hear that little gesture.”

Noël’s tight-knit group of researchers and friends at Western was devastated to learn last week of Hayatdavoudi’s death in the Kiev-bound plane crash that claimed 176 lives. Hayatdavoudi was one of four Western graduate students on the plane, shot down shortly after it left Tehran airport.

“There is a hole in everybody’s hearts because she was one of our group. She was part of the team and we’re almost like family, so losing her is like losing a family member,” Noel said.

Hayatdavoudi was a brilliant researcher, he said, and her 2018 email asking if he would consider supervising her graduate studies stood out from among the dozens of similar inquiries he receives from Iranian and other international students every month.

“She was really a top student out of all the students who applied to get into the PhD program,” he said.

Her project was researching corrosion in metal, specifically the interaction of hydrogen within copper/steel canisters planned to safeguard Canada’s supply of used nuclear fuel.

She was excited at the prospect of presenting a paper to the Electrochemical Society meeting in Montreal in May.

Although she had carefully documented her work and findings, which will ultimately help design safe storage of spent nuclear fuel, there is now no one carrying out that specific angle of research.

Originally from the city of Shiraz, 1,000 kilometres south of Tehran, Hayatdavoudi was devoted to her family, to science and to her community – and to making a difference in whatever community she found herself.

During her time here, she volunteered weekly as a tutor for people with disabilities at Hutton House in London. She made many friends among the Persian and science communities at Western.

Hayatdavoudi’s holiday return to Iran was the first time she had been back home in more than a year – and she eagerly anticipated this time to gather with family and friends before her planned return in time to continue her research and lead a class as TA starting this week.

On Jan. 8, she sent a text to her friends here that she had made the connecting flight from Shiraz and was waiting at Tehran airport to board her flight back to Canada.

Since then, her friends have held closely to each other – her roommate, fellow students and faculty gathering to share stories and remember Hayatdavoudi’s bright light. They mourn the loss of her research and the impact her future work could have made on the world. They mourn the loss of her brilliance, and her contagious grin and giggle.

“She touched a lot of lives,” Noël said.