SSI Affiliate Research Scientist Babar Ali was an astronomer, senior data scientist, and machine learning engineer. Babar combined a successful career in industry with his astronomical research, which focused on the formation and evolution of protostars.
Babar did his undergraduate degree in astronomy and physics at the University of Arizona and earned his Ph.D. in astronomy from The Ohio State University. In his dissertation, he developed a spectral classification scheme for stars in the near-infrared wavelength regime and used this method to decipher the nature of young stars in the nearby Orion star-forming region. He also held a graduate professional certificate in Data Mining & Applications from Stanford University, which he leveraged toward a career in machine learning at startups in the Los Angeles area.
As an astronomer, Babar worked on observing campaigns, algorithm development, and archival databases for ESA/NASA's Infrared Space Observatory, Herschel Space Observatory, and Infrared Processing & Analysis Center (IPAC) at the University of Rochester and Caltech as a staff scientist before joining SSI in 2014. He was also the recipient of three NASA Public Service Group Achievement Awards and a science mentor for the NASA IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program. Babar's work outside of astronomy straddled applications of data science to disparate fields such as finance, digital marketing, and the automotive industry. He served as a volunteer data scientist for DataKind, studying wheat field signatures in MODIS and CHIRPS satellite imagery data by clustering the temporal pattern of vegetation and rainfall.
Babar passed away unexpectedly in December 2020. This is a tremendous loss not only to our institute, but to the wider astronomical and data science communities, to which he contributed so much. He is survived by his wife, Kristin Herkstroeter, and two sons, Sekander and Daniyar. His friends have started a GoFundMe page to raise college funds for his sons.