Perimeter mourns the passing of a brilliant rising star in cosmology


Chiamaka Okoli was a remarkable and highly accomplished young African scientist, colleague, and friend.

The Perimeter Institute family is deeply saddened by the passing of Chiamaka Okoli, an exceptional young scientist, just days before her PhD convocation.

Chiamaka leaves behind her devoted husband, Felix, and their 21-month-old son Munachi. Perimeter and the wider research community extends condolences to Felix, Munachi, and their family in Nigeria.

Chiamaka joined the Perimeter Scholars International (PSI) program in 2012, after obtaining an undergraduate degree in physics in her native Nigeria and a physics diploma from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. After successfully completing the PSI program, Okoli chose to remain at Perimeter and the University of Waterloo for her PhD.

She successfully defended her PhD thesis, completed under the supervision of Perimeter’s Niayesh Afshordi and the University of Waterloo’s James Taylor, last December. She was due to receive her PhD diploma at convocation this week.

Chiamaka suffered a near-fatal cerebral aneurysm last year, from which she made a remarkable recovery. With extraordinary courage, resilience, and a zest for finding answers to the universe’s deepest questions – in particular, the properties of the cosmological dark matter – she continued her physics studies and published several well-regarded papers.

This spring, however, she suffered a second, more serious episode which ultimately ended her life. Her father, who is 80 years old, had travelled from Nigeria to attend her convocation. He visited her in hospital shortly before she passed away.

Chiamaka was offered two postdoctoral fellowships including one at North Carolina State with Assistant Professor Katie Mack (also a 2019/20 Simons Emmy Noether Fellow at Perimeter), but her health complications eventually forced her to decline them both. 

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.

Plans for a memorial event are now underway, and Perimeter intends to create a studentship in Chiamaka’s name. To help her family offset the costs associated with the funeral, The Chiamaka Okoli Trust Fund has been created. For more information about the trust fund and memorial plans, please contact Jamie Cooper at jcooper@perimeterinstitute.ca.

About Perimeter Institute

Perimeter Institute is the world’s largest research hub devoted to theoretical physics. The independent Institute was founded in 1999 to foster breakthroughs in the fundamental understanding of our universe, from the smallest particles to the entire cosmos. Research at Perimeter is motivated by the understanding that fundamental science advances human knowledge and catalyzes innovation, and that today’s theoretical physics is tomorrow’s technology. Located in the Region of Waterloo, the not-for-profit Institute is a unique public-private endeavour, including the Governments of Ontario and Canada, that enables cutting-edge research, trains the next generation of scientific pioneers, and shares the power of physics through award-winning educational outreach and public engagement. 
 

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Plans for a memorial event are now underway, and Perimeter will create a studentship in Chiamaka’s name.