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Vera Rubin

- NYT obit: she transformed modern physics and astronomy with her
observations showing that galaxies and stars and immersed in the
gravitational grip of vast clouds of dark matter. 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 tip of a lumbering iceberg of mystery
- Born July 23, 1928
- Died December 25, 2016
- American astronomer, pioneer of galaxy rotation rates

EarlyLife
- She was born Vera Florence Cooper
- Born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania
- Younger of 2 sisters
- Parents were Jewish immigrants
o Phillip Cooper, born in Vilnius Lithuania as Pesach Kobchefski,
Lithuanian-American electrical engineer who worked at Bell
Telephone
o Rose Applebaum Cooper: Bessarabia (Romanian) also worked
Bell until their marriage
o Ruth Cooper Burg: sister, administrative law judge in Us Dept. of
Defense
- Family moved to D.C. when she was Ten
o Where she developed interest in astronomy
o Rubin: I became entranced by astronomy from watching the
stars wheel past her bedroom window.

Personal Life
- Married Robert Rubin from 1948 until husbands death in 2008
o Met while he was a fellow grad student at Cornell majoring in
physical chemistry
- All 4 of her children earned PhDs in natural sciences or mathematics
- Motivated by her own battle to gain credibility as a woman in a field
dominated by male astronomers, Rubin encouraged girls to pursue
their dreams of investigating the universe
o Faced a lot of discouraging comments over her life
o Had support of father, husband, and family
- Rubin was a force for greater recognition of women in the sciences
o She would call conference organizers and point out their lack of
diverse speakers and fought for women to be accepted at
Washingtons exclusive Cosmos Club and advocated for more
women in the National Academy of Sciences, on review panels,
and in academic searches
o Stated that saddest part of her life that few women were being
elected to NAS every year Thirty years ago, I thought everything
was possible
- She was also Jewish, and saw no conflict between science and religion
o In my own life, my science and my religion are separate. I'm
Jewish, and so religion to me is a kind of moral code and a kind of
history. I try to do my science in a moral way, and, I believe that,
ideally, science should be looked upon as something that helps
us understand our role in the universe.

Education
- Undergraduate: Vassar College because first nationally known woman
astronomer Maria Mitchell got her BA in Astronomy in 1948
- Tried to do Princeton for graduate, but women not allowed into
graduate astronomy program until 1975
- Enrolled at Cornell for graduate, studied physics under Philip Morrison
and quantum physics under Richard Feynman and Hans Bethe
- Completed her masters thesis study in 1951
o Examined the possibility of a bulk rotation in the universe by
looking for non-Hubble flow
o Hubble-flow is the motion of astronomical objects due solely to
expansion of the universe
o She argued that galaxies might be rotating around unknown
centers rather than only moving outward as the Big Bang theory
of the time suggested
Controversial study and paper derived from it was rejected by
both the Astronomical Journal and the Astrophysical Journal
She later agreed that data was too skimpy but believed
her thesis was a factor in a claim for evidence of the Local
Supercluster
- Doctoral Work at Georgetown
o Dissertation completed in 1954
o Concluded that galaxies clumped together rather than randomly
distributed through the universe
o Idea not pursued by other for 20 years

Career
- Instructor of Mathematics and Physics at Montgomery County
Community College
- Research Associate Astronomer, Lecturer, and Assistant Professor of
Astronomy at Georgetown University from 1955-1965
- Staff Member in Dept. of Terrestrial Magnetism at Carnegie Institute in
1965
o Her and Kent Ford began examining rotation of neighboring
galaxies, Andromeda in particular
o First authorized female user of Mount Palomar Observatory
o Eventually became senior fellow at DTM where her work was
involved in galactic and extra-galactic dynamics and large-scale
structure and dynamics of the universe

Galaxy Rotation work The Galaxy Rotation Problem The Rubin-Ford Effect
- Uncovered discrepancy between angular motion of galaxies and the
observed motion of galaxies by studying galactic rotation curves
- Premise: galaxies are rotating so fast that they should fly apart if the
gravity of their constituent stars was all that was holding them
together. Because they are not flying apart, something else must be
holding them together and that something else is dark matter.
o Rubins work should that galaxies must contain at least 6 times
as much dark matter as ordinary matter
o Possible explanations: Large halos of invisible matter exist
around galaxies or Newtonian gravity does not apply universally
or that gravity is not the only force responsible for holding
galaxies together, or some combination of these things
o Rubin: If I could have my pick, I would like to learn that
Newton's laws must be modified in order to correctly describe
gravitational interactions at large distances. That's more
appealing than a universe filled with a new kind of sub-nuclear
particle.

Dark Matter
- Rubin 1970s observations of galaxy rotations provided further
evidence of dark matter and was considered the strongest evidence of
dark matter up to that time
- She used the Carnegie Image Tube to make her observations. It is an
electronic optical detector system that increased detection efficiency
over photographic plates by a factor of twenty
o More detailed exposure enabled dark matter to be detected
- Rubin: It has been known for a long time that outside the bright
nucleus of a typical spiral galaxy the luminosity of the galaxy falls off
rapidly with distance from the center. If luminosity were a true
indicator of mass, most of the mass would be concentrated toward the
center. Outside the nucleus the rotational velocity would fall off
inversely as the square root of the distance, in conformity with Kepler's
law for the orbital velocity of bodies in the solar system. Instead it has
been found that the rotational velocity of spiral galaxies in a diverse
sample either remains constant with increasing distance from the
center or rises slightly out as far as it is possible to make
measurements. This unexpected result indicates that the falloff in
luminous mass with distance from the center is balanced by an
increase in nonluminous mass.
The distribution of light is not a valid indicator of the distribution of
mass either in galaxies or in the universe at large. As much as 90
percent of the mass of the universe is evidently not radiating at any
wavelength with enough intensity to be detected on the earth.
Originally astronomers described the nonluminous component as
"missing matter." Today they recognize that it is not missing; it is just
not visible
- Nature of dark matter is still unknown, but its presence is crucial to
understanding the universe

Memberships, Awards, Honors


- National Academy of Sciences
- Pontifical Academy of Sciences
- American Philosophical Society
- Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society 1996
o For scientific distinction and determination and fortitude in
advancing the role of women in astronomy
o First women to be honored since Caroline Herschel in 1828
- Weizmann Women & Science Award 1996
o To an outstanding woman scientist who has made significant
contributions to the scientific community
- Gruber International Cosmology Prize
- Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal of the Astronomical Society of the
Pacific 2003
o The ASPs highest honor and one of the highest honors in the
astronomical community for a lifetime of outstanding research in
astronomy
- James Craig Watson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (2004),
for "her seminal observations of dark matter in galaxies, large-scale
relative motions of galaxies, and for generous mentoring of young
astronomers, men and women.

- Richtmyer Memorial Award

- Dickson Prize for Science

- National Medal of Science (1993), for "pioneering research programs in


observational cosmology which demonstrated that much of the matter
in the universe is dark, and for significant contributions to the
realization that the universe is more complex and more mysterious
than had been imagined."

- Adler Planetarium Lifetime Achievement Award

- Jansky Lectureship before the National Radio Astronomy Observatory


- Honorary Doctorates from Creighton University, American University,
Ohio Wesleyan University, Harvard, Yale
- Asteroid 5726 was named in her honor

Of her potential legacy, Rubin remarked, "Fame is fleeting, my numbers


mean more to me than my name. If astronomers are still using my data
years from now, that's my greatest compliment."

Rubin was a force in the world her entire career, driving astronomical
research and a pioneer for women in all branches of science.