1948, A time when the baby boom generation was being born to the Greatest generation in 20th century history. It was post World War II, the men had returned home, married their sweethearts and began a family. Most of the women so vital to the war effort were back at home taking care of family life. There were exceptions, women who wanted more, Vera Cooper Rubin was one of these women. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Astronomy from Vassar and went on to obtain a Master’s degree in Physics from Cornell University, 1951. She was turned down by Princeton as they did not admit women to their master’s programs until 1975. She finally finished her doctorate in 1954 from Georgetown University.
Among brilliant entertainers I love, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Vera Rubin also died on December 25, 2016. In 1948 the Big Bang theory stated that matter expanded and kept moving out. Rubin suggested in her Master’s thesis from Cornell that galaxies might be rotating around unknown centers, rather than simply moving outwards. The paper she wrote from her thesis was rejected by Astronomical Journal and the Astrophysical Journal. (1) After completely her education she became a staff member at Carnegie Mellon in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. She also changed science for both women and our understanding of the universe at the time.
At Carnegie she met her longtime friend Kent Ford. In the 1960s and 1970s, Rubin was working with Ford, studying the behavior of spiral galaxies, when they discovered something entirely unexpected — the stars at the outside of the galaxy were moving as fast as the ones in the middle, which didn’t fit with Newtonian gravitational theory. The explanation: Dark matter. (2) She not only identified dark matter, but was a strong advocate for women in the sciences. “I live and work with three basic assumptions,” Rubin once wrote:
“1) There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.
“2) Worldwide, half of all brains are in women.
“3) We all need permission to do science, but, for reasons that are deeply ingrained in history, this permission is more often given to men than to women.” (3)
The NY times states Dr. Rubin was cheerful and plain spoken. That she had a lifelong love of the stars, championed women in science and was blunt about our knowledge or lack of knowledge of nature.
The Times went on to say her work helped usher in a Copernican-scale change in cosmic consciousness, namely the realization that what astronomers always saw and thought was the universe is just the visible tip of a lumbering iceberg of mystery. (4)
- Larsen, Kristine (March 1, 2009). “Vera Cooper Rubin”.Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Brookline, MA: Jewish Women’s Archive. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
- Vera Rubin; Who confirmed the existence of Dark Matter, Dies at 88, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/26/507022497/vera-rubin-who-confirmed-existence-of-dark-matter-dies-at-88, Dec 26, 2016
- Vera Rubin, 88, Dies; Opened Doors in Astronomy, and for Women, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/27/science/vera-rubin-astronomist-who-made-the-case-for-dark-matter-dies-at-88.html?ribbon-ad-idx=20&rref=science&module=Ribbon&version=context®ion=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Science&pgtype=article
Vera is second from left in orange suit.