A tribute to Prof. Carolina Odman

Message from AfNWA Board

Professor Carolina Ödman was one of the founding members of the African Network for Women in Astronomy (AfNWA). Her death is a great loss to AfNWA and to the entire scientific astronomical community.

The announcement of Carolina’s death in November 2022 came as a great shock to the entire astronomy community even though it was expected. She had been fighting pancreatic cancer for 5 years. Despite her battle with this disease, through her generosity and passion for her work, she continued to serve her community and family, to go to work, to participate in awareness activities and training, and to constantly inspire all of us. She had such a wide circle of influence, and her loss was felt deeply across both the African and international astronomy communities.

Carolina was involved in many activities for the development of astronomy from the grassroots upwards. In addition to her professional duties (as an Associate Professor in Astrophysics at the University of the Western Cape and the Associate Director for Development and Outreach at the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy), Carolina has been very active in programmes of outreach of astronomy and science in general, considering that science is one of the key mechanisms for addressing the challenges of society. To this end, she led a global programme called the Universe Awareness, which uses astronomy to inspire young people, and was building a programme for science education in African languages. All this brought her several recognitions: in 2018 she received the Special Executive Committee Award for Astronomy, Development, and Education from the International Astronomical Union. In 2021, the National Science and Technology Forum presented Professor Ödman with the Communication Award for her innovative ways of communicating science, engineering, and technology. Indeed, she has initiated many projects that have had significant impact in their communities.

Carolina was a unique soul and an extraordinary person who meant so much to all of us who had the chance and privilege to meet her and work with her. Through her passion and true love for astronomy, the world that surrounds us, and humanity, Carolina inspired constantly so many of us and she left on us an everlasting list of true values to be followed in our life and work.

Carolina was a founding member of AfNWA-AfAS and a serving member of the AfNWA board. She has been a powerful force in our community, advocating for the representation of women in science and industry, and working towards empowering minorities in our society. For AfNWA, she was one of the vital persons. She was the first to give the virtual trainings that we organised for bringing more skills to our young people; she took the principal coordination of AfNWA communication with the public, for giving more visibility to AfNWA activities; she played a key role in launching the very first Awards for Women in Astronomy in Africa, for giving recognition and more visibility to the work that young and senior women astronomers in Africa are doing and for inspiring through them many others; and she participated in drafting the AfNWA recommendations for future policies and strategies for improving the status of women in science.    

We, at AfNWA, are grateful for her immense contribution to our society and continue to be guided by her life’s work in making our world a better place through astronomy and science. Carolina was a joy to work with, and she held us all to high standards. 

She is the embodiment of Nelson Mandela’s well known phrase “It always seems impossible until it’s done!”. We take strength from her ever-optimistic outlook, even in the face of cancer, and we commit to channel this unique energy in our future endeavours. 

As a sign of recognition of her contribution to AfNWA, the Early Research Career Award, which will be given every year to young women in astronomy in Africa for their science achievements and their contribution to society, has been renamed into “Prof. Carolina Ödman Early Career Award”. Carolina will be deeply missed in the AfNWA community, but she will forever be our inspiring star and our source of kindness, optimism, motivation, and strength.