Technology & Science

Former lead scientist behind Canada's Mars weather station dies

Diane Michelangeli, a planetary scientist and at one time principal investigator behind a team of Canadian researchers in charge of a weather station bound for Mars, has died at age 45.

Diane Michelangeli, a planetary scientist and at one time principal investigator behind a team of Canadian researchers in charge of a weather station bound for Mars, has died at age45.

Michelangeli, whose 20 years of work in atmospheric science made her a natural choice to lead the Canadian contribution to the Phoenix Mars lander, passed away on Aug. 30 of cancer, York University confirmed Friday.

Her colleague, York University professor Peter Taylor, said Michelangeli had been suffering from metastatic cancer for the past few years, "fighting every step of the way," before succumbing to a series of brain tumours.

"She was a delightful woman and she'll be missed," Taylor told CBC News.

Taylor said Michelangeli's commitment to her students never wavered despite her illness, as she devoted significant time to assisting graduate students despite her poor health, with five of her students successfully defending their graduate theses and dissertations in the past year.

But Michelangeli, whoworked as a researcher at the University of Toronto and in the private sector before joining York in 1999, also made solid contributions as a scientist, said Taylor.

Her work on modelling chemical process, particularly the impact of aerosols, has significance not onlyfor Mars but also on research here on Earth, he said.

Until earlier this year Michelangeli was in charge of a team of scientists and companies that designed, built and are set to monitor the findings of the Phoenix lander's meteorological instrument package, or MET, a weather station that includes temperature, pressure and laser-based light-detecting instruments. Her colleague, York University professor Jim Whiteway, took over the role as principal investigator six months ago.

The team, led by York University, includes contributions from the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University, Natural Resources Canada and technology companies OpTech and MDA, as well as the Canadian Space Agency. The project also has international collaboration from the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

The weather station is expected to arrive on Mars in May 2008 aboard the Phoenix lander, which launched on Aug. 4.

"It was surely a great disappointment to her to not see the mission through," said Taylor. "But at the time of the launch I think she was pleased."

York said a scholarship in her name is being established to provide financial assistance to a female graduate student enrolled in the scienceand engineering programs.

Michelangeli is survived by her husband, Lionel Laroche, daughter Carolyn, 14, and son Daniel, 11.

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