Charlene Anne Heisler (1961-1999)

When Charlene Heisler was about to embark on her PhD in astronomy, her doctor advised her that since she suffered from cystic fibrosis and was unlikely to survive for more than a couple of years, she should abandon any thoughts of doing a PhD. But Charlene's enthusiasm for astronomy propelled her right through her PhD, and then through a further eight years during which she built a distinguished career at some of the world's top observatories.

In 1985 Charlene graduated with a B.Sc. in applied mathematics and physics from the University of Calgary, where one of her teachers commented: "students like Charlene are the reason that we enjoy teaching". While at Calgary she also worked as a summer research assistant for Sun Kwok and Gene Couch, and made her debut as an educator in the Calgary Centennial Planetarium.

Charlene then studied under the supervision of J. Patricia Vader for her PhD at Yale, where in 1988 she won the "Beatrice Tinsley Graduate Student Award". In May 1991 she submitted her PhD thesis, entitled "Galaxies with Spectral Energy Distributions Peaking at 60 microns: Morphology and Activity Explained by Interactions". She concluded in her thesis, and in several papers resulting from it, that the "Sixty Micron Peakers" represented a short-lived phase of nuclear activity, triggered by an interaction.

After completing her PhD, Charlene spent two years as a postdoc working with Mike De Robertis. She broadened her study of Peakers by moving into near-infrared wavelengths using Mauna Kea telescopes. She was passionately interested in the evolution of active galactic nuclei and believed that "Peakers" held important clues about early stages of activity in nuclei. This belief was subsequently shown to be correct by NIR imaging and spectroscopic data which she acquired at KPNO and the AAT. While at York, Charlene became firmly committed to science education. She taught two undergraduate courses, gave many public talks, and was dedicated to the encouragement of young women to science.

In 1993 Charlene took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Anglo-Australian Observatory, and moved to Sydney, Australia. As well as her continuing studies of Peaker galaxies, she became a support astronomer for IRIS and prime CCD imaging, and became the AAO liaison astronomer with the MPI 3D project. What might have been a chore for others was seized enthusiastically as an opportunity by Charlene, and resulted in several collaborations in other, unconnected, areas of astronomy. In 1996 she moved to Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatory, Canberra, Australia, and in 1998 she was awarded a prestigious Senior Fellowship there.

In 1997 she addressed (with Stuart Lumsden and Jeremy Bailey) her second major area of work, after her Peakers, in what was perhaps her most significant paper. This paper tackled the question of why some Seyfert 2 galaxies have "hidden" broad line regions (HBLR), visible only in polarised light, and others don't. Charlene and her colleagues showed a strong correlation between the existence of a broad line region and the infrared colour of the galaxy, and they developed a model in which Seyfert 2's with HBLR's were simply those Seyfert galaxies whose symmetry axis was relatively close to the line of sight.

Her last major project (the COLA project) with Phil Appleton, Ray Norris, and others, tried to determine whether there was any real evidence to associate AGN activity with starburst activity. It was just after a visit to Chile in September 1998 to take observations for this project that Charlene's illness took a turn for the worse. This was her last observing trip.

By December 1998, Charlene's lung function had decreased to about 20%. She underwent a double lung transplant on May 11 in Sydney, which went smoothly. Within a few weeks of the transplant, she started analysing data from her last spectroscopy run. But despite an excellent prognosis and all signs of a first-class recovery, in late October she suddenly deteriorated and on 28 October 1999 she passed away.

There are a number of young people in science now who would not be there were it not for Charlene's encouragement and guidance. These include her PhD students Tanya Hill and Lisa Kewley. To these students and others, Charlene was not just a teacher and mentor, but "she was a wonderful friend, a big sister and an incredible inspiration". In short, she was the best role model that a young student could have. To her colleagues, she was an inspiration who showed how to have fun, do good science, and be a warm, sincere, caring, human being.

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