Following the launch of our new Antimatter collection, our first Illamuse of 2017 explores and reflects on Vera Rubin’s ‘Dark Matter’ discovery, achievements throughout her life and career as one of the most influential female astronomers to date.
Vera Rubin was an American astrophysicist who sadly passed away on Christmas Day 2016 aged 88. With many astonishing achievements throughout her career as a pioneering astronomer, we are taking this opportunity to celebrate her life & work as a woman in science.
Famous in the world of physics, for her revolutionary research into ‘Dark Matter’. Vera continued to excel in this field, having examined over two hundred galaxies in her career at a time where it was made extremely difficult for women to be a respected figure in science.
Vera’s interest in science flared from a young age as she became entranced by astronomy from watching stars from her bedroom window. This passion grew with the involvement of her father, who took her along to meetings of young astronomers and helped to build her a telescope.
“There was nothing as interesting in my life as watching the stars every night”
Rubin became one of the main contributors in finding powerful evidence to suggest the presence of ‘Dark Matter’. Rubin rocketed in success as she began her studies as the only astronomy major graduate in her all-female class at Vassar College, 1948. After the discovery that women were not allowed on Princeton’s astronomy graduate scheme until 1975 she went on to receive her master’s degree from Cornell University and was awarded her Doctorate at Georgetown University where she later taught for a decade.
Aside from her pioneering discovery, Rubin hit many milestones in her career including her achievements and influence on the value of women in the science industry. She was the second female astronomer ever to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences and Bill Clinton awarded her with the National Medal of Science in 1993. Vera was yet to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics and there has been controversy in recent years about the Nobel committee passing on awarding the prize to her. It has been speculated that Vera was just as deserving, if not, more deserving than previous winners. It has been fifty-three years since a woman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics and unfortunately they are not awarded posthumously.
As well as Rubin’s influence on the Physics industry she was also known as a women’s advocate of her time in the world of science. Despite lack of recognition in Vera Rubin’s time of study and when her career started, she didn’t let this define her, in fact she continued to mentor and push opportunities for women where none existed.
Rubin wrote, “I live by three main assumptions”:
- “There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man, that can’t be solved by a woman”
- “Worldwide, half of the brains are in women”
- “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”
Despite the influence that Vera had on science, the way the universe is now seen and studied and her influence on women’s recognition in the science industry, previously described as a ‘guiding light’ for a generation of female astronomers, Vera Rubin stated that she is “not to worry about the prizes and fame. The real prize is finding something new out there”.