Tributes paid to US climate scientist killed on Ethiopia trip

Gray, 30, a post-doctoral researcher, was in the East African country for a meeting to kick off a research project when she was killed Tuesday. Picture: AP
Gray, 30, a post-doctoral researcher, was in the East African country for a meeting to kick off a research project when she was killed Tuesday. Picture: AP
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An American researcher killed in a rock attack by protesters in Ethiopia this week was a talented scientist with a bright future, family members and mentors said.

Sharon Gray, 31, was a leader in the study of how climate change affects plants, said Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar, chairman of Ms Gray’s plant biology department at the University of California, Davis.

He said: “She’s really an always-smiling slip of sunshine. She’s a smart, energetic scientist. She had a very bright future ahead of her. And everyone knew she was going to be the star in the plant biology research area.”

Ms Gray, a post-doctoral researcher, was in the East African country for a meeting to kick off a research project when she was killed on Tuesday. She was travelling in a car in the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa, an area that has seen months of deadly protests.

A family statement said Ms Gray was “such a bright human being.”

“Sharon was a passionate scientist, friend, spouse, sister, daughter, aunt, godmother, and a colleague.

“We are picking each other up and growing together in her absence.”

The family has started a fund­raising webpage aimed at mentoring young women in science in her name.

Ms Gray is the first foreigner killed in the massive anti-government protests that have claimed the lives of hundreds of demonstrators since November 2015.

At least 55 people were killed in a stampede last weekend when police tried to disrupt a demonstration amid a massive religious festival that has been followed by clashes between security forces and protesters.

The details of the attack that killed Ms Gray are still unclear, Mr Dinesh-Kumar said. Another UC Davis professor who was in Ethiopia was shaken but not hurt and is returning home, he said.

The US Embassy attributed the death to head injuries from a rock thrown by “unknown individuals”.

Ms Gray earned her doctorate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2013 before moving to UC Davis with her husband, who is also a post-doctoral researcher. She was awarded a three-year National Science Foundation grant to study how growing levels of carbon dioxide affect plants.