Death of astrophysicist professor Carolina Ödman leaves loved ones feeling profound loss

Professor Carolina Ödman with two children and husband Kevin Govender.

Professor Carolina Ödman with two children and husband Kevin Govender.

Published Nov 17, 2022


Cape Town - The University of the Western Cape (UWC) and friends, family and loved ones of professor Carolina Ödman have expressed profound loss at her passing.

The Swiss-born astrophysicist was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2018 and passed away at the age of 48, during the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Ödman was a UWC associate professor and associate director of development and outreach at the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy.

She has been the recipient of numerous national and international awards, with the most recent being the 2020/2021 NSTF (National Science and Technology Forum) Communication & Outreach Award.

The NSTF award, considered to be “Science Oscars” is given to people who have made significant contributions to science research in the country.

She firmly believed that science could be used as a mechanism to effectively address societal and global challenges. In 2020, Ödman won the International Science Council award for her concept of developing a “Science for Development” course for science graduates.

Ödman is also known for her noteworthy contributions to building a scientific vocabulary in African languages at UWC.

She also set up the global Universe Awareness Programme using astronomy to inspire young children.

Her husband, Kevin Govender, said his wife would be remembered mostly for her smile and generally positive attitude.

If asked, he said his wife would put down having their children, Xavier, 10, and Cyprian, 8, as her most notable and significant achievements in life.

“Her proudest achievement though are her kids and as she said to us, when she is gone, at least she will love on in them – she was so so proud of them and loved them beyond anything in the world.”

She represented the best of humanity, and the ability to spread love, kindness and gratitude even in the darkest of times, he said.

“The response at the time of loss has been nothing short of overwhelming – huge numbers of messages and condolences pouring in – more than I can keep up with or respond to. The whole world seems to be in mourning,” Govender said.

Faculty of Natural Sciences Dean, Professor Bertram Fielding, said the faculty and Physics and Astronomy Department were heartbroken at the passing of a dear colleague

“Besides her inspiring and impactful work, she was quite simply an extraordinary human being. Her kind and generous spirit and positivity were infectious; with her radiant energy and broad smile, she lit up every meeting room or lecture venue she entered - even online Zoom meetings,” Bertram said.

“Her courage, optimism and sheer joy for life during her long cancer journey were inspirational. Her UWC physics and astronomy family adored her. Caroline touched many people’s lives so profoundly across our campus and the world.”

Messages of condolence can be sent to [email protected].

To honour Ödman’s wish, people have also been invited to share memories and experiences of her in the form of a short video, writing and photographs, etc, to be addressed to her children.

[email protected]

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