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Vera Rubin

Vera Rubin

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Vera Rubin (born ) is an American astronomer
An astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as planets, stars and galaxies.Historically, astronomy was more concerned with the classification and description of phenomena in the sky, while astrophysics attempted to explain these phenomena and the differences between them using...

 who pioneered work on galaxy
A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system that consists of stars and stellar remnants, an interstellar medium of gas and dust, and an important but poorly understood component tentatively dubbed dark matter. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek galaxias , literally "milky", a...

 rotation rates. She is famous for uncovering the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion, by studying galactic rotation curves. This phenomenon became known as the galaxy rotation problem.

Vera Rubin can be seen on the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

A documentary is a creative work of non-fiction, including:* Documentary film, including television* Radio documentary* Documentary photographyRelated terms include:...

 Most of Our Universe is Missing.

Scientific work

Currently, the theory of dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

 is the most popular candidate for explaining the galaxy rotation problem. The alternative theory of MOND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics
Modified Newtonian dynamics
In physics, Modified Newtonian dynamics is a hypothesis that proposes a modification of Newton's law of gravity to explain the galaxy rotation problem. When the uniform velocity of rotation of galaxies was first observed, it was unexpected because Newtonian theory of gravity predicts that objects...

) has little support in the community. Rubin, however, supports the MOND approach, stating "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."

After she had earned an A.B.
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 from Vassar College
Vassar College
Vassar College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States. The Vassar campus comprises over and more than 100 buildings, including four National Historic Landmarks, ranging in style from Collegiate Gothic to International,...

 (1948), she tried to enroll at Princeton
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 but never received their graduate catalog as women there were not allowed in the graduate astronomy program until 1975.
She applied to Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

, where she studied physics under Philip Morrison
Philip Morrison
Philip Morrison, was Institute Professor Emeritus and Professor of Physics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology .-Early life and education:...

, Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman
Richard Phillips Feynman was an American physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics...

, and Hans Bethe
Hans Bethe
Hans Albrecht Bethe was a German-American nuclear physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. A versatile theoretical physicist, Bethe also made important contributions to quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, solid-state physics and...

. There she earned an M.A.
Master's degree
A master's is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice...

 in 1951. Then in 1954 at Georgetown University
Georgetown University
Georgetown University is a private, Jesuit, research university whose main campus is in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Founded in 1789, it is the oldest Catholic university in the United States...

 she earned a Ph.D.
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

Vera Rubin also has honorary Doctors of Science degrees from numerous universities, including Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 and Yale
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

. Rubin is currently a research astronomer at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. She is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

 and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Pontifical Academy of Sciences
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a scientific academy of the Vatican, founded in 1936 by Pope Pius XI. It is placed under the protection of the reigning Supreme Pontiff. Its aim is to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of related...

. So far she has co-authored 114 peer review
Peer review
Peer review is a process of self-regulation by a profession or a process of evaluation involving qualified individuals within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards, improve performance and provide credibility...

ed research papers.

She is the author of Bright Galaxies Dark Matters (Masters of Modern Physics), AIP Press, 1996, ISBN 1-56396-231-4

She also served on the board of trustees for Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public
Society for Science & the Public
Society for Science & the Public , formerly known as Science Service, is a 5013 non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of science, through its science education programs and publications, including the weekly Science News magazine.Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the organization...

, from 2002-2008.


All four of her children have earned Ph.D.s in the natural science
Natural science
The natural sciences are branches of science that seek to elucidate the rules that govern the natural world by using empirical and scientific methods...

s or mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

: David (1950), Ph.D. geology, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey; Judith Young (1952), Ph.D. cosmic-ray physics, an astronomer at the University of Massachusetts; Karl (1956), Ph.D. mathematics, a mathematician at the University of California at Irvine; and Allan (1960), Ph.D. geology, a geologist at Princeton University.

Religious views

Rubin is an observant Jew, and sees no conflict between science and religion. In an interview, she stated: "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."


  • Dickson Prize for Science
  • National Medal of Science
    National Medal of Science
    The National Medal of Science is an honor bestowed by the President of the United States to individuals in science and engineering who have made important contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and...

  • Henry Norris Russell Lectureship
    Henry Norris Russell Lectureship
    The Henry Norris Russell Lectureship is awarded each year by the American Astronomical Society in recognition of a lifetime of excellence in astronomical research.-Previous lecturers:This list of lecturers is from the American Astronomical Society's website....

     in 1994
  • Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
    Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
    -History:In the early years, more than one medal was often awarded in a year, but by 1833 only one medal was being awarded per year. This caused a problem when Neptune was discovered in 1846, because many felt an award should jointly be made to John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier...

     in 1996
She was only the second female recipient of this medal, the first being Caroline Herschel
Caroline Herschel
Caroline Lucretia Herschel was a German-British astronomer, the sister of astronomer Sir Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel with whom she worked throughout both of their careers. Her most significant contribution to astronomy was the discovery of several comets and in particular the periodic comet...

 in 1828.
  • Gruber Cosmology Prize by the Peter Gruber Foundation (2002)
  • Bruce Medal
    Bruce Medal
    The Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal is awarded every year by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for outstanding lifetime contributions to astronomy. It is named after Catherine Wolfe Bruce, an American patroness of astronomy, and was first awarded in 1898...

     in 2003
  • James Craig Watson Medal
    James Craig Watson Medal
    thumb|right|400px|James Craig Watson MedalThe James Craig Watson Medal was established by the bequest of James Craig Watson, and is awarded by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for contributions to astronomy.The recipients have been:-External links:*...

     in 2004
  • Adler Planetarium
    Adler Planetarium
    The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum in Chicago, Illinois was the first planetarium built in the Western Hemisphere and is the oldest in existence today. Adler was founded and built in 1930 by the philanthropist Max Adler, with the assistance of the first director of the planetarium, Philip Fox...

     Women in Space Science Award in 2009
  • American University
    American University
    American University is a private, Methodist, liberal arts, and research university in Washington, D.C. The university was chartered by an Act of Congress on December 5, 1892 as "The American University", which was approved by President Benjamin Harrison on February 24, 1893...

     Honorary Doctor of Science in 2011

Named after her
  • Asteroid
    Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

     5726 Rubin
    5726 Rubin
    5726 Rubin is a main-belt asteroid discovered on January 24, 1988 by C. S. Shoemaker at Palomar.- External links :*...

  • Rubin-Ford effect
    Rubin-Ford effect
    The Rubin-Ford effect is the observation of a dipole anisotropy in the recessional velocity of a sample of ScI galaxies. This anisotropy is different in magnitude and direction from that of the cosmic microwave background radiation, and suggests that they are moving relative to the microwave...

In popular culture
  • In the 1st episode of the 22nd Season of The Simpsons
    The Simpsons
    The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

    , Milhouse lists "Vers Rubin" (sic) as his pick for the 2010 Physics Nobel prize.

Further reading

  • Robert Rubin, "Vera Rubin" in OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics, Nina Byers and Gary Williams, ed., Cambridge University Press 2006.

External links