The Sky Detective - First Chapter by Author Azadeh Tabazadeh. Growing up in revolutionary Iran. One girl's journey, a true story. Click here to read now.

The Sky Detective – First Chapter

The Sky Detective - First Chapter

My zest for science goes back 42 years! – Sieving for gold at age eight

The Science Prize

San Francisco, December 2001

My stomach knots as I glance at an audience of more than seven thousand people gathered in the grand ballroom at the Marriott in San Francisco. This year, I’ve been selected by the American Geophysical Union to receive a prestigious science medal. Thank God I’m not alone up here on the stage. Men in dark suits or tuxedoes are seated to my left and right, waiting for their turns to speak.

The notes for my speech are crumpled inside a vintage beaded gold purse I purchased at an antique shop last week to match a navy-blue-and-gold St. John suit that I had bought earlier for this occasion. My husband will likely raise an eyebrow when he sees our credit card bill next month, but for now, he appears cheerful, chatting with my parents in the front row—Baba in a dark tailored suit and Mamman in a flowing lavender silk dress that she wore to our wedding eight years earlier.

A few days after my parents learned of this award, they sent me a large bouquet of flowers. Hidden in between the stems and the leaves, I saw a note written in Baba’s meticulous handwriting: To our lovely, amazing daughter. You have made us all proud to be Iranian. His words brought tears of pride to my eyes as I remembered my adolescent years when life seemed like a burden unworthy of the wait to become an adult.

Back then, every morning, I reluctantly dressed in a dark cloak and a long headscarf and headed for school, came home, and waited with my family for Iraqi planes to once again bomb Tehran—bombs that kept us all hidden in our dark, damp basement until dawn. Through those dark hours, I often thought, What on earth am I here for?

As I look up from the stage, the glint of Baba’s gold Rolex watch catches my eye. He purchased it last year to attend a ceremony at the White House, an occasion he often brags about. I took him along with me as my guest of honor to receive a presidential award, a half-million-dollar grant from President Clinton’s office to continue my research on polar stratospheric clouds—a special class of clouds that naturally form over the poles but can interact with chemicals humans release to produce a hole in Earth’s ozone layer. This layer, located in the lower stratosphere, absorbs most of the harmful UV radiation that is incident upon our planet. Even minute amounts of ozone degradation within this layer translate into copious amounts of UV radiation reaching Earth’s surface, posing a threat to the survival of all living organisms.

Baba, touched by the president’s generosity, vowed to vote democratic in the next election, but then he changed his mind. He voted for Bush instead of Gore, and that broke my heart, since Al Gore has always been the most recognized and outspoken advocate for environmental research, my area of specialty. My father, I believe, will never cast a vote for a Democrat, for in his mind, President Carter is the reason Iran became the “Islamic Republic of Iran” in 1979.

The moment I’ve dreaded is almost here. My heart beats fast as I hear, “It is my great pleasure to join in recognizing Dr. Azadeh Tabazadeh’s talent, accomplishments, and promise as memorialized in the Macelwane Medal. Azadeh is noted …” Once again, an honor that I am grateful and humbled to receive comes at a cost of facing my worst fear. I’d rather kiss a snake than take center stage in front of all these people.

Minutes later, I’m standing behind the podium, head down, rummaging through my tiny gold purse to retrieve my crinkly notes inside. The microphone is on, so the audience can hear me scrambling behind the scenes to get ready for my talk. With notes in hand, I take a deep breath, thank a few colleagues, and begin.

Once my daughter, Dionna, asked me, “What do you do at your work?”

“I am a scientist,” I told her.

“What’s that?”

“I study the clouds, rainbows, and many other interesting things that you often like to paint.”

“Well, I also like to paint dinosaurs, and I don’t think I want to be a scientist. I want to be a bone collector when I’m all grown up.”

Luckily, what she meant was to take all of her friends to a desert to dig for dinosaur bones. She also tried hard to convince me not to worry too much about the clouds, because they are always there in the sky for everyone to see, whereas dinosaur bones are hiding in the sand waiting for “little” people to find them.

At last, I told her, “If you work really hard, someday you will be the most famous  grown-up bone collector on the Earth.”

I pause for a moment to look at the audience: row upon row of faces glowing under crisp chandelier lights. Laughter fills the air as I tell the story of the chemistry kit that my uncle gave me as a present when I was eight—a kit that got me hooked on science early on but also caused my mother to snap at me from time to time.

Before closing, I look directly at my parents’ gaze. This may be my last opportunity to thank them in front of such a large crowd.

Nineteen years ago, a few years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, it was just a  dream for a young woman to even think of pursuing a career in science … It is because  of my parents’ unselfish sacrifices that I am living today the life of my dreams …

Drenched in sweat and slightly shaking, I walk back to my seat with my hands wrapped around a small mahogany box presented to me after my talk.

Inside the box, a large silver medal is inscribed with my name, the date, and a citation that reads: For Significant Contributions to the Geophysical Sciences by a Young Scientist of Outstanding Ability.

The words instantly boost my ego and soothe my nerves. I can finally breathe a sigh of relief and even laugh in my head at the sight of my name—Azadeh Tabazadeh—listed on Wikipedia among a sea of Richards, Davids, Johns, and Michaels, the previous recipients of this award. I know it will happen sooner or later; a curious web browser will click on my name, expecting to see a picture of a nerdy-looking guy from a strange country with a name that’s either difficult to pronounce or impossible to place on the map. Instead, a photograph of me—an unveiled woman from an estranged but now well-known country—fills the screen. The browser may pause for a moment and puzzle over my appearance.

A short trip to a shopping mall is not the reason that I appear Westernized in that photograph. In 1982, my brother, my cousin, and I, all teenagers at the time, fled Iran by crossing a vast barren desert to reach the borders of Pakistan and beyond. For thousands of miles, the scorching sun burned our faces raw as we traveled by foot, on crowded mopeds, and in the back of rusty pickup trucks, putting our lives in the hands of Pakistani smugglers who were now trafficking people, instead of drugs, out of Iran. My life has changed a great deal since then, but the world, it seems, has remained the same—countries at war or in the midst of bloody revolutions with no political resolution in sight.

A week after the award ceremony, I set out to buy a chemistry kit for my daughter, Dionna, at a Toys “R” Us near my work at NASA in Moffett Field, California, hoping that the gift may entice her to pursue science and stay away from world politics of any kind.

In the store, I find the section where the science kits are stacked, but nothing interesting catches my eye. The professional-looking kit of the 1970s, which I got as a kid, has now become just another cartoonish-looking box lost in the land of Toys “R” Us.

Disappointed, I leave the store empty handed, wondering how many little girls will miss the opportunity I was given at age eight to find myself.



  1. It’s really great. I want know about your life after lran and how do you life in the United States. ls it hard for you?

    • Azadeh Tabazadeh says:

      Thanks for connecting. Life has been very good to me in the United States. At some point I will write a memoir about my experiences in the United States and the struggles women have to go through to succeed in a male-dominated field. Best, Azadeh

  2. roksaneh boluki says:

    از اينكه بسيار موفق بودي بسيار خوشحالم
    برايت آرزوي موفقيتهاي بيشتر به همراه عزيزانت آرزو مي كنم
    دوست دارم كتابت را بخوانم گر چه متاسفانه احتمالا ايران نمي توانم پيدايش كنم
    ركسانه بلوكي همكلاسيت سالهاي سوم وچهارم دبيرستان ايران

  3. Farhad Haghighi says:

    Congratulations on your outstanding achievements. I am sure your book will be a success as it will be an inspiration for all the young people searching to shape and enhance their life.

  4. Matt Adab says:

    I can’t wait to read the book Azadeh, Congratulation

  5. Carolyn Lopez says:

    Love the first chapter and can’t wait to read the rest of your book.

  6. George Chadwick says:

    Perfect intro. Perfect place to start. Everything about the packaging speaks to the intelligent reader, including the Farsi-like script for the word “Sky” on the cover contrasted with the blocklike “detective.” Almost like your script is saying, your childhood heart is there, but your adult mind is here. You have chosen to honor your reader that you trust that he or she will follow along with you on your journey without having to have everything spelled out as if you were speaking to people you do not trust to understand.
    Brava! Tabrik migoyam تبریک می گویم

  7. Scott S. says:

    Based on this beautifully written first chapter, this memoir is clearly one that I believe will offer much inspiration, hope, and self-reflection to all who read it. I so appreciated the honesty and openness that Azadeh provides in letting us into her fascinating, unique personal journey in life. Very nicely done – you already have a fan and eagerly-awaiting book customer here! I very much look forward to having access to the remainder of this soon on a variety of reading mediums.

  8. Janely R. says:

    This is a beautifully told story. I look forward to reading what the rest of your journey has been like.

  9. Hilda Cornejo says:

    Azadeh, what a wonderul story. I look forward to reading more and will share with my daughters.

  10. Thank you so much for writing this book. It reminds me of my past and my country, which I love so much. Cannot wait to read the next Chapters, and the next book.

  11. Paul Malveaux says:

    Congratulation! This is an amazing accomplishment, Can’t wait to share this amazing story
    with my family and friends. And MY GOD BLESS YOU.

  12. Azadeh:

    Even though I know a little bit about your book as a family member, I am very anxious to read the entire book. I am truly proud of you. Congratulations!!

  13. Kioumars Azarhoush says:

    You are amazing. I cannot wait to buy the book . Well done.

  14. Ada Chen says:

    It’s a very well written first chapter. I look forward to reading the rest of your book!

  15. Fito Osorio says:

    Congrats on your achievements. I can’t wait to read the rest of this book. I too share a similar story.
    Keep on pressing towards your goals.

  16. Candys Simpkins says:

    Captivating First Chapter! I look forward to reading your book.

  17. Michele Redmond says:

    Very Inspirational…I am looking forward to reading the rest of your journey Azadeh which I’m sure will be as captivating as the first chapter. Your family must be very proud. Congratulations!

  18. Michelle Cable says:

    Congrats on the publication of your book! The first chapter is intriguing and makes me want to read more. You have overcome so many challenges and have accomplished so much. I cannot wait to read the rest of your book.

  19. Janette L says:

    One word: AMAZING!!!

    Can’t wait to read more and share with friends!

  20. Can’t wait to buy the book. 🙂

  21. Lysa Otterbein says:

    WOW, What a great perspective. I want to read more. Look forward to when your book is released.

  22. Aileen Songco says:

    I’m eager to read the rest of the book based on the first chapter alone. It is very well written and offers a tasteful use of imagery. Job well done.

  23. Can’t wait to have a copy of the book to share with my family and friends.

  24. Afshan Tababazadeh says:

    I love it. This is going to be a great book.

  25. Kathe Martin says:

    Witty and emotional. You gripped me with your pride and took me with you down memory lane. If this first chapter is any indication of how this book will be, you’ve got me hooked!

  26. Eren Goknar says:

    I read this whole book in one sitting. It’s well-written and shows how life was before and during the revolution. Although I know many Persians who have come here years ago, I had no idea how difficult it could be and how heroic one had to be. This will inspire young women to become scientists like you! Can’t wait to buy a copy. Congratulations on your book and a life of achievements.

  27. This is so exciting! the first chapter is amazing. Can’t wait to read the rest!

  28. Marina Esquivel says:

    After reading the above chapter I can hardly wait to read the rest of your book as your writing is beautiful and captivating, your journey and inspiration to success is a treasure and a gift for us all to appreciate.

    Congratulations on the publishing of your memoirs and to your proud parents, you are a blessing to them.

  29. Deb Brown says:

    Hello Azadeh and Kudos! What a wonderful read. You are such an inspiration to young girls and women all over. I pesonally look forward to reading your book in its entirety. Truth be told, it would also make a great film.

  30. Penni Barnes says:

    Congratulations on your publication and for sharing your childhood memories with the world.

  31. Ela Vogeler says:

    Congratulations! I admire you very much and look forward to reading more of your story. It will be an inspiration for all of us!

  32. Amanda Hussey says:

    What an amazing story you have to tell. I look forward to reading your book! Your family must be so very proud of you! Congratulations!

  33. Bob Mars says:

    Exciting escape from Iran! Exciting time on stage! I hope your Life (ie book) will be just as Exciting!!

  34. Very confident this book is going to inspire so many out there. I’m really looking forward to read more. Thank you for sharing.

  35. Noemi Hamoy says:

    Congratulations! You have a very inspiring story to tell that cuts across borders, cultures and generations. I am already very captivated with the first chapter and absolutely have to buy the book! You have the precious gift of story telling, thank you for sharing this with the world.

  36. Raymond Aguirre says:

    Very very inspiring. It touches me emotionally. Wish you all the best!

  37. Jackie Schoelerman says:

    Your story is so inspiring. Reading your journey and your achievements are remarkable. I cannot wait to read the rest of your book.

  38. What a terrific book. Can’t wait to read the next chapters. You have overcome so much, but yet stayed so humble.

  39. Patrick and Fariba Durkin says:

    Azadeh— We await anxiously to read the rest of the chapters of your amazing journey. It is quite an achievement, and to chronicle it in a book is even more of an achievement. An immigrant’s journey to the USA has always been a topic that we enjoy reading. Congratulations and it will be a book for everyone to enjoy.

  40. Azadeh,
    What a glorious moment it will soon be, when your book is out and available for everyone to read. Yet another milestone! Publishing a first book must be one of the highest points in the roller coaster that one’s life is. Congratulations, and hoping that The Sky Detective will be but the first in a long succession of fascinating books.

  41. Kathy Hoss says:

    I’m already excited to read the rest. Wonderful first chapter. Having known Azadeh and her sweetness for the most part of my life, reading about her journey will be a pleasure to me. Biggest congratulations and looking forward to the rest to come…

  42. Congratulations on bringing your wonderful story and book to life! I’m glad that many people will get a chance to read your amazing story! They will learn so much about you, the world you came from, and about history. And they will get inspired by a girl who knows what she wants to be at a young age.

  43. This chapter is so well written that takes me back to those times and events. I look forward to reading the rest of the book. Perfect portray of events that took place. Anyone reading it, can almost imagine themselves in that situation. Please let me know as soon as the book is out. Well done indeed!

  44. So impressed by the first chapter already! Can’t wait to read the rest.
    Because of how close we are in age (both in our early 20’s! wink, wink!) I find many similarities in our experiences of that era. So, your writing is of special interest to me. Huge congratulations to you.

  45. Diana Ghahremanpour says:

    I hoped the first chapter would never end! It gets you hooked. I can’t wait for the book to be published so I can read it. A very unique memoir of courage, excitement, adventure and success. Congratulations!

  46. Breton Montano says:

    After reading the opening chapter of The Sky Detective I had to pause and wonder with admiration how you were able to succeed to such a high level against such high odds. Then, I found myself going back to read chapter one over again. I think you may find yourself on stage once again.

    -Mark Breton Montano

  47. I can’t wait til this book comes out. Considering That I have known you since you got to the U.S., I’m very interested in reading in detail of your childhood and what you have been doing during the past 25 years.
    Keep me posted. Hopefully I will be able to download from The iBooks store.

  48. Debby Kantorik says:

    I was hooked after reading the first sentence. You are an amazing writer with a captivating story to share. I can’t wait to read all of it. It is an honor for me to have been among the few who heard it firsthand. You are an amazing woman. Thank you!!
    Debby Kantorik

  49. Azadeh, I am honored to have heard early chapters, and now to see the first chapter of your memoir. Although you and I seem to come from such different worlds, we share the experience of changing worlds (countries) in one lifetime. Thank you for telling your story. I will read every word, and yes, seeing the words of your father….all you have overcome,

  50. Moji Taba says:

    I am so proud of you and your hard work to succeed. By reading this chapter it brings back so many memories of what life used to be like for our family and how we have all moved forward in life. I am so excited that the completed book with the whole story will be released soon so everyone will see what we have overcome.

    Love, Dad

  51. Tom Good says:

    Azadeh captures the excitement of describing the road to her success. As a pseudo -scientist, I feel the jealousy in not achieving her level of accomplishments, but out weighed by the anticipation of reading about her journey in chapters 2,3,4,… Can’t wait to read it and share the experiences with Megan. Sincerely, Tom

  52. Congratulations! What an amazing achievement. Lovely chapter, looking forward to read the rest

  53. An amazing peronal journey that many of us relate to in parts which makes it so real, at times so impossible and yet so triumphant. Congratulations!

  54. Well-written, Mom. I hope I am in the book too!

  55. Wonderful first chapter. Can’t wait to buy the book. Well done!

  56. Tooran Oshikoji says:

    Your writing is very good and you have achieved a lot in your life. Congratulation!

  57. Can’t wait to see the book!

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