Naslim Neelamkodan was honoured during a special function organised by the Kerala State Higher Education Council

‘Star’ may now be an overused tag for Naslim Neelamkodan, but it is her discovery of a real star shrouded in glittering zirconium metal, 2,000 light years away, that has earned this most befitting title for the 27-year-old Ph.D. holder.

Dr. Neelamkodan was honoured during a special function organised by the Kerala State Higher Education Council at the Kerala State Science and Technology Museum on Thursday.

“It is a matter of great pride for everyone in the State that a girl who was born and brought up at Edakkara in Malappuram district, and who completed her basic education here, has achieved something like this,” said Speaker G. Karthikeyan while honouring the young scientist with a memento.

After completing her B.Sc. in Physics from Mar Thoma College, Chungathara at Nilambur — affiliated to Calicut University — she proceeded to the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, solely because it is the only university in the State that offers a specialisation in Astrophysics.

She came across the unusual star “very unexpectedly” while writing her thesis for a Ph.D. from Belfast Queen University, Ireland, on the chemical composition of the atmosphere of ‘hot sub-dwarf stars’ in December 2010. The team led by Dr. Neelamkodan came across the most zirconium-rich star ever discovered during their research at Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland. Zirconium is better known as the material used by jewellers to make fake diamonds.

Observing the night sky demands much patience and perseverance, and Dr. Neelamkodan, during her address, described the frustration and anxiety she felt at times.

She recounted her experience in Australia and Chile where she was able to work with highly powerful telescopes.

“We had to write proposals and ask for telescope time. At Chile, I was totally disappointed because out of the four days given to us, the first three were completely cloudy and it was only on the fourth that it cleared. Then I had to work without a break as I could not afford to spare a second from studying the sky,” said Dr. Neelamkodan. She will return to Ireland shortly to complete her post-doctoral research.

Other speakers at the function said Dr. Neelamkodan was the perfect role model for students in the State, especially with regard to promoting pure science courses. Science and Technology Museum Director Arul Gerald Prakash; Calicut University Vice Chancellor M. Abdul Salam; and Samy Mahmoud, Chancellor of the University of Sharjah spoke. Dr. Mahmoud earlier delivered a lecture on challenges and opportunities in higher education.