Farewell to Dr. Chiamaka Okoli

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Chiamaka OkoliIt is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of Dr. Chiamaka Okoli, a brilliant astrophysicist and former PhD student at our department. Dr. Okoli successfully defended her PhD with the title “Dark Matter and Neutrinos in the Foggy universe” last December. Her PhD convocation at the University of Waterloo was scheduled for last week, on June 13th. However, that was not meant to be. Her life was cut short on June 6th in McMaster hospital in Hamilton.

Dr. Okoli first came to Waterloo in Fall 2012, when she joined the then-recently-established Perimeter Scholar International program. She had just finished the diploma program at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, and was eager to work more on cosmological structure formation. She started working with Prof. Niayesh Afshordi on understanding the profiles of dark matter haloes, establishing a novel paradigm to predict their concentration based on energy conservation. This led to her first paper.

In Winter 2014, Dr. Okoli started her PhD program at the University of Waterloo, working Prof. Afshordi and Prof. James Taylor. She went on to publish further studies on novel effects of neutrinos on cosmological structures, as well as predictions for annihilation of dark matter particles into gamma rays. In her final years, while her health permitted, she was actively working on understanding the thermodynamics of galaxy groups and dark matter simulations with cosmic neutrinos.

In addition to her research, Chiamaka was an active mentor at the Supernova Foundation, which provides mentoring for female undergraduate physics students in developing countries around the world.

In February 2018, only six months after the birth of her son, Dr. Okoli was hit with her first near-fatal cerebral aneurysm, which she talked about in a facebook post, in its one-year anniversary. It took a few surgeries, as well as many months of recovery and rehab for her to get back on her feet. In September 2018, she came back to work, determined to wrap up her PhD thesis, which she managed to do by mid-October. She defended her PhD in December 2018. Unfortunately, Dr. Okoli suffered a more severe aneurysm episode last May, which ended her life, only a week short of her doctoral convocation.

Like all academics, Dr. Okoli’s legacy now propagates through those who read and study her work. They are all those open-ended questions and ongoing projects that will permeate through journals and workshops, along with the dreams of what she could have done with them, only if universe treated her more kindly.

Dr. Okoli is survived through her husband Felix, and her 22-month old son, Munachi. A visitation service for Dr. Okoli will take place on Friday, June 21 at the Henry Walser Funeral Home in Kitchener from 6:00pm – 9:00 pm, with prayers at 7:30 pm.

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