The Current

How Canada's scientific community is moving forward after 'unbelievable' losses in Flight 752

A former student and research assistant of one of the many members of Canada's scientific community killed in the downing of Flight 752 says his team wants to continue the work of their former lab head. 

85 scientists were killed after Iran shot down the Ukrainian passenger jet

Mohammad Abdolrazzaghi (left) and Mojgan Daneshmand (right), an engineering professor at the University of Alberta. Daneshmand, along with her husband and two daughters, was killed on board Flight 752 after it was shot down by Iran in January. (Mohammad Abdolrazzaghi/Supplied)
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A former student and research assistant of one of the many members of Canada's scientific community killed in the downing of Flight 752 says his team wants to continue the work of their former lab head. 

"Certainly we felt her loss and nothing could express how lonely we became after her death," Mohammad Abdolrazzaghi said of the late Mojgan Daneshmand.

Daneshmand, who was an engineering professor at the University of Alberta, ran a research lab focusing on microwave technology for biomedical and chemical applications. Her husband Pedram Mousavi — an engineering professor himself — and their two daughters also died in the Jan. 8 crash that killed all 176 people aboard. Eighty-five people from Canada's scientific community were among those killed.

Iran denied shooting down the airliner for three days after the crash. Then amid mounting international pressure and evidence, it admitted its military "mistakenly" attacked the jet shortly after it took off from Tehran, just hours after Iran's forces fired missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed.

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Now the Canadian scientific community is finding ways to move forward in the face of the huge losses.

Abdolrazzaghi says the research team has tried to "kept their momentum as much as possible" and has "vowed to [Daneshmand] and the University of Alberta" to press on with her research.

Even though Daneshmand passing has made "this a little bit bumpy and so hard to continue," Abdolrazzaghi says he hasn't forgotten the main reason for joining her team. 

"We joined her group to continue our research and to study in a better place to get a degree that could transform all of our studies," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.

Community still in a 'state of disbelief'

President and founder of the Canadian Science Policy Centre Mehrdad Hariri says the Canadian scientific community is still in a 'state of disbelief and shock because the scale [of loss] was great.' (Submitted by Mehrdad Hariri)

Mehrdad Hariri, president and founder of the Canadian Science Policy Centre, says it was touching to hear of the "wonderful stories" of colleagues coming together and "taking the torch" to continue to the legacy of researchers who lost their lives. 

But two months on, the community is still in a "state of disbelief and shock because the scale [of loss] was great," he said. 

"Researchers, students, lecturers lost their lives from across the country, from Vancouver to Halifax, Winnipeg, Waterloo, Edmonton, Toronto, Windsor. This was unbelievable."

The reason so many scientists were on the flight was because it was right after Christmas, so many went back to visit families over the holiday period, he said. 

Hariri says the plane crash was a "defining moment" for many Iranian-Canadians, with himself and many of his colleagues and friends receiving messages of support and solidarity from across Canada. 

Following the Flight 752 tragedy, Hariri, along with the University of Toronto's Rahim Rezaie, took an active role in setting up scholarship funds in the names of those who died. 

The Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund was established at the University of Toronto in January. It will provide needs-based scholarships to international students from Iran, as well as students from any background pursuing Iranian studies.

The fund is donation based, with all public contributions being matched by the university. The first $250,000 will be matched at a rate of 3:1, with all funds beyond that threshold being matched dollar for dollar.

"We thought we have got to do something and continue their legacies. Helping out other Iranian students to pursue their studies and continue research would be one way to remember these victims," Hariri said. 


Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin and Allie Jaynes. 

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