Moroccan Astronomer Merieme Chadid
In March 2005, astronomer and explorer Merieme Chadid became the first Moroccan woman to set foot on Antarctica, where she planted the flag of Morocco – the first Arab flag to be placed in this remote location. Listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the thirty most interesting workers in the world, Chedid was one of the astronomers involved in installing VLT telescopes in Chile’s barren Atacama Desert, and is considered to be the world’s first astronomer to be committed to installing the large astronomical observatory in Antarctica, where she has carried out pioneering work at Dome C of the Concordia Research Station.
Born in Casablanca on 11 October 1969, Merieme Chadid became interested in astronomy from a young age. A book about 17th century German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler further inspired her, as did a radio broadcast by fellow Moroccan and astronomy enthusiast Albert Pilot. She contacted Pilot regarding her interest in the field and he encouraged her to pursue her passion for astronomy, which she continues to do.
After earning an MA in physics at the University of Casablanca, Chadid moved to Nice where she studied imaging science, before continuing her education at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence, obtaining a PhD for her study entitled Stellar Pulsation and Evolution. Her career continued as an engineer astrophysicist at the National Center for Scientific Research located in Montpellier, France. It was while working in this capacity that Merieme Chadid was selected by the European Southern Observatory to work on the installation of the VLT – Very Large Telescope – in the Atacama Desert.
Of all her many achievements, Merieme notes that one of her most treasured accomplishments has been her work at Dome C in Antarctica, describing it as one of the coldest, most deserted and inaccessible places in the world, and comparing the installation of an observatory there as resembling a space mission. With night continuing for several months of the year, researchers at the station have the advantage of being able to study the stars 24/7 if they need to. Certainly, this Moroccan astronomer has come a long way since she first studied the night skies in the country of her birth.