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7 members of chemistry community killed in Iran plane crash

Product-testing company chemist and 6 graduate students were traveling separately to Canada

by Sam Lemonick
January 15, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 3

A chemist working at a product-testing company and six graduate students in molecular science fields died last week when Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down over Tehran, Iran. The plane was flying from Tehran to Kiev, Ukraine, and the seven chemists were traveling separately to Canada. All 176 passengers on board died in the accident.

Photograph of Fareed Arasteh.
Credit: Katayoun Omidi
Fareed Arasteh

Fareed Arasteh, 32, was a first-year PhD candidate at Carleton University. He was working to identify and characterize new gene factors involved in the quality-control processes that fungal cells use to ensure the right genes get expressed. Arasteh had returned to his home in Iran between semesters to get married. His wife was not aboard the flight. His adviser, Ashkan Golshani, says Arasteh was a humble, approachable person who always had a smile on his face and was very dedicated to science. Arasteh, Golshani says, was excited about asking questions no one had yet asked and making new discoveries—the kind of student who seems to have a calling for science. “He wanted to push our understanding of life science,” Golshani says.

Photograph of Hadis Hayatdavoudi.
Credit: Niloofar Mansouri
Hadis Hayatdavoudi

Hadis Hayatdavoudi, 27, was a second-year PhD candidate at Western University. Her research project focused on electrochemical interactions of hydrogen and copper that can weaken containers used to store nuclear fuel waste. Hayatdavoudi was bold and confident, coming to Canada on her own to start a new life, says her adviser, James Noël. She adapted quickly to her new surroundings while proudly retaining her own culture, including sometimes sharing Persian cooking with him, he says. Hayatdavoudi was a top student who was curious about the science in her project and in other students’ projects. Noël also says she was saving copper beads ejected as waste from an analyzer she used in her experiments, with the idea that she could make them into jewelry. “She saw the beauty in them,” Noël said on the phone as he shook the beads in their box.

Photograph of Saeed Kashani.
Credit: Stephen Newman
Saeed Kashani

Saeed Kashani, 29, was a third-year PhD student at the University of Ottawa. He was experimenting with ways to automate aspects of synthetic organic chemistry using flow systems. Kashani collaborated with Apotex to convert some of the company’s processes to continuous-flow chemistry, a technique he was also adapting for cross-coupling reactions. His most recent project was creating an automated system for predicting rate equations for different reactions. Kashani stayed longer than usual on his visit to Iran because he wasn’t sure when he could return next, says his adviser, Stephen Newman. Newman says Kashani was the rare type of scientist who kept a positive attitude and a big smile even when his chemistry wasn’t working. “I know his colleagues benefited greatly from that,” Newman says.

Photograph of Amir Hossein Saeedinia.
Credit: James Hogan
Amir Hossein Saeedinia

Amir Hossein Saeedinia, 25, was about to begin a PhD program at the University of Alberta. He was traveling to Canada for the first time, along with his girlfriend. James Hogan, who planned to be his adviser, says Saeedinia’s first email to him last May expressed so much personality that Hogan immediately wanted to hear more. Saeedinia’s project, which the student was already preparing for, would have involved software analysis of coatings used to protect oil and gas equipment from wear, with the idea of designing new coatings. Saeedinia was already a leader, helping Hogan recruit other Iranian students who will join the lab in September. Hogan says he and Saeedinia were talking every few weeks by Skype and that Saeedinia was reading textbooks and learning software to get ready for his research project. “I thought this was his ticket, an opportunity to do something new,” Hogan says.

Milad Nahavandi, 34, was a PhD student at Western University. His research project involved producing high-value chemicals from glucose, according to the Industrial Bioproduct Lab group’s website.

Sajedeh Saraiean, 26, was an incoming masters student in Western University’s chemical and biochemical engineering program.

Sheyda Shadkhoo, 41, was a control substances coordinator at SGS, an inspection, testing, and certification company, in Ontario. News reports say Shadkhoo was returning home from visiting her family in Tehran. Her husband told CNN that in a call shortly before the flight took off, Shadkhoo told him she was worried about her safety during the military action and for all Iranians at a moment when more conflict in the region seemed inevitable. Current and former colleagues grieved in comments posted on their LinkedIn pages.

Three days after the crash, the Iranian government admitted that its military shot down the passenger jet after mistaking it for a cruise missile. Tensions were high in the region as Iran fired missiles at bases in Iraq after a US attack that killed an Iranian major general.


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