The Bruce Medalists


  photo Photo c.1970, courtesy Dr. Rubin
Vera Florence Cooper Rubin
23 July 1928 2003 Bruce Medalist 25 December 2016

Vera Rubin was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Washington, D.C. She earned her B.A. at Vassar College and her M.A. at Cornell University, where she made one of the first studies of deviations from the Hubble flow in the motions of galaxies. This work turned out to be the precursor of studies of the local supercluster. After earning her Ph.D. at Georgetown University under George Gamow, she taught at Montgomery County Junior College and at Georgetown. From 1965 until her retirement she was at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. There she joined with W. Kent Ford, Jr., inventor of an image tube spectrograph, to measure rotation curves of spiral galaxies (and later, ellipticals as well). This work, which she extended considerably as CCDs replaced image tubes, led to the realization that most of the mass in galaxies is dark and that it resides in the outer parts, or haloes. (Dark matter had been suggested as early as 1933 by Fritz Zwicky as necessary to keep clusters of galaxies from flying apart. ) She was a leader in the study of the structure of galaxies, their internal motions, and large-scale motions in the Universe. Stating that she was inspired by the example of Maria Mitchell, Rubin herself was an inspiration and mentor to many younger astronomers. She was at least as proud of her four children, all of whom earned Ph.D.’s in math or science, as of her scientific achievements.

Personal Web Page
At The Carnegie Institution of Washington

Presentation of Bruce medal
Garmany, Katy, Mercury 32, 4, 42 (Jul/Aug 2003). See the ASP website

Other awards
American Association of Physics Teachers, Richtmeyer Memorial Award, 2008/2009.
American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1994.
Peter Gruber Foundation, Cosmology Prize, 2002. (report in Physics Today)
National Academy of Sciences, National Medal of Science, 1993; James Craig Watson Medal, 2004.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Jansky Lectureship, 1994.
Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Gold Medal.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1996, presented by M.S. Longair, Observatory 117, 129-32 (1997).

Biographical materials
Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Women in Astronomy
Bartusiak, M., “The Woman Who Spins the Stars,” Discover, p. 88 (Oct. 1990).
Eisberg, Joann in Shearer, Benjamin F. & Barbara S., eds. Notable Women in the Physical Sciences: a Biographical Dictionary (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT & London, 1997), pp. 350-55.
Irion, Robert, “The Bright Face behind the Dark Sides of Galaxies,” Science, 295, 960 (2002).
Johnson, Ben & Meigy Tsai, Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics.
Nazé, Yaël, “Vera Rubin, la femme qui a changé la face de l’Univers,” Ciel & Espace 437, 58-62 (Oct 2006).
Rubin, Vera, interview with Alan Lightman, in Lightman, Alan & Roberta Brawer, Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1990), pp. 285-305.
Rubin, Vera C., “An Interesting Voyage,” Annu. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 49, 1-28 (2011).
Stephens, Sally, “Vera Rubin: An Unconventional Career,” Mercury 21, 1, 38-45 (Jan/Feb 1992) [reprinted in Rubin, Vera C., Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters (Amer. Inst. Phys. Press, Woodbury, NY, 1997)].
Thompson, Katrina, Lake Afton Public Observatory, Vera Rubin’s Dark Universe.
Trimble, Virginia, Gruber Cosmology Prize biographical statement.
Vassar College, Women in Science Hall of Fame.

Carnegie Institution for Science, 26 December 2016.
Domonoske, Camila, NPR, 26 December 2016.
Overbye, Dennis, New York Times, 27 December 2016.
Schudel, Matt, Washington Post, 26 December 2016

At Lowell Observatory, 1965, courtesy of Dr. Rubin
Recent portrait, courtesy of Dr. Rubin
AIP Center for History of Physics [many]

Named after her
Vera C. Rubin Observatory
Minor Planet #5726 Rubin
Rubin-Ford effect (with W. Kent Ford, Jr.)

More references

The Bruce Medalists

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