Vera Rubin (1928-2016)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Digital Illustration, 24" x 32", 2022
While working at Cornell University and Georgetown University, astronomer Vera Rubin studied the motions and rotation rates of 109 galaxies. By looking at the galactic rotation curves, she was able to make the first observations of galactic supernovas and deviations from Hubble Flow; the process by which the galaxies are moving apart from one another. This led to her identifying a galaxy rotation problem, caused by what she would later discovered to be the first evidence of dark matter. Many of her findings were initially considered controversial to the astronomical society.
As a mother of four children, Rubin found that her career made it difficult to balance professional work and home life. At the time, the field of astronomy was not accommodating to women. While employed at Carnegie Institute, she became their first female astronomer and created their first women’s restroom. She became a “guiding light” to women who worked to have both a family and a career. After her death as age 88, Rubin’s children remarked that she made science enjoyable and desirable. All four of her boys went on to earn their Ph.D.’s in natural sciences or mathematics.
In 2019, the Chilean Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) was renamed the National Science Foundation Vera C. Rubin Observatory. The telescope studies dark matter in honor of Rubin’s contributions to astronomy as well as the equal treatment of women in science.