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Sahar Said Allam (1964-2022)

Allam was an active researcher in multiple and varied fields of observational astronomy, including dust and star formation in galaxies, strongly lensed galaxies, photometric calibration, and the optical follow-up of gravitational wave events.

Published onMay 07, 2024
Sahar Said Allam (1964-2022)

Photo Credit:  Douglas L. Tucker

Dr. Sahar Said Allam, an active researcher in multiple and varied fields of observational astronomy, died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. She was age 57.

She was an alumna of Cairo University and the National Research Institute of Astronomy & Geophysics (NRIAG). Her scientific career took her to the Universität Potsdam (Germany), New Mexico State University (USA), the Space Telescope Science Institute (USA), and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab; USA), as well as to astronomical observatories in New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Chile, and Australia. Among other projects, she worked on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and the Dark Energy Survey (DES), achieving the coveted “Builders” status on both these projects. She was the discoverer of the (at the time) brightest known Lyman Break Galaxy, the strongly lensed “8 O’Clock Arc”, and played an important role in the discovery of the optical counterpart to the gravitational wave event GW170817. During her final illness, she began work as a Data Preview 0 (“DP0”) Delegate for the Vera C. Rubin Legacy Survey of Space & Time (LSST) and was even the Principal Investigator on a successful observing proposal submitted posthumously. The asteroid “135979 Allam” is named after her. 

According to her in memoriam in the 5 August 2022 edition of the Fermilab internal e-newsletter, Fermilab Today, Sahar was an enthusiastic supporter of the lab’s cosmic frontier experiments – always at the front of the line to volunteer for the most difficult to staff observing shifts (Christmas and New Year’s) on the mountaintop in Chile. Specializing in photometric calibration, she made invaluable contributions to the SDSS and DES projects, uncovering numerous issues with her painstaking analysis. Sahar loved scientific discovery and was rightfully proud of uncovering several gravitationally lensed galaxies in the distant universe, found by carefully scanning by eye thousands of SDSS and DES images. She treasured the discoveries that the astrophysics survey projects enabled. Perhaps the most exciting happening was on the night of 17 August 2017, when she was on shift duty at the remote observing station in Fermilab’s Wilson Hall when the optical counterpart to the LIGO gravitational wave oscillation was detected by the DECam imaging camera in Chile – a brilliant flash of light resulting from the merger of two neutron stars 120 million light years distant! Sahar was a constant presence among the experimental astrophysics group at Fermilab for nearly 20 years, welcoming to all. Students and postdocs from all lands fondly recalled Sahar’s tips for working in a cubicle surrounded by vocal physicists and noted that she was always available for a chat day or late into the night. Many colleagues expressed the sentiment felt by all those who knew her: “It is very sad to lose a friend.”

A recording of her celebration of life -- held online 3 September 2022 – can be found at this URL and a guestbook containing contributions from friends and colleagues can be found at this URL. A recording of a memorial lecture, given by Douglas Tucker at the National Research Institute of Astronomy & Geophysics (NRIAG) on 6 February 2023, can be found at this URL.

Adapted and reproduced with permission from the 5 August 2022 edition Fermilab’s internal e-newsletter, Fermilab Today (link, currently only accessible from within the Fermilab firewall).

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