Reaching for the Stars, Aiming at Galaxies
Vera Cooper Rubin (b. 1928) is an American astronomer who pioneered research on galactic rotation and, according to Richard Panek, “discovered some of the most compelling evidence for the existence of dark matter,” although why her Wikipedia page is so sparse is beyond me.
Rubin never took advice to steer clear of science as a profession. She graduated from Vassar College with an undergraduate degree in astronomy — the only astronomy major in her class — and received her master’s from Cornell University in 1950 after not being allowed into Princeton’s astronomy program due to being a woman. That same year at twenty-two years old, Rubin presented her ill-received thesis challenging Hubble’s research to the American Astronomical Society in Haverford, Pennsylvania with newborn in tow (the first of four children, a geologist named David).
In 1954, she completed her doctorate at George Washington University in only two years with a dissertation titled “Fluctuations in the Space Distribution of the Galaxies.” Rubin became the first woman to be hired by Carnegie Institute’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) in 1965 where she still works today at the age of 84. Her entire body of work has been driven by sheer curiosity and questioning of the science before her time.
To graduates of American University’s Class of 2011, Rubin offered this advice: “If you really have something you want to do — and it surely doesn’t have to be astronomy — and you really think that it’s worth doing, you should go ahead and do it.” Pay no mind to naysayers. As Vera Rubin reminds us, only you are in charge of your destiny, and that’s why I love her story.
Credit: Photo by Archives and Special Collections of Vassar College.