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St. Clair County Community College Library

Women in Science

Vera Rubin (1928 - 2016)

Vera RubinNoted American Astronomer whose work helped verify Fritz Zwicky's theory of dark matter, that "stars are only the visible tracers of a much larger mass that makes up a galaxy". Rubin graduated from Vassar College in 1948 with a degree in Astronomy, attended graduate school at Cornell, studying physics, and went on to earn her PhD in 1954 from Georgetown University, where she went on to teach for 10 years. 

As a researcher at Carnegie Institute she worked alongside Kent Ford, measuring orbital speeds of galaxies. The observations that the stars at the outer reaches of spiral galaxies were moving at a similar speed to those in the more gravitationally concentrated center helped Rubin realize that there must be a tremendous amount of unseen or "dark" matter making up large portions of these galaxies. Rubin was the first woman to observe under her own name as a guest investigator at the Mount Palomar Observatory.   

Rubin's work also includes the discovery of a galaxy in which half of the stars appear to be orbiting in one direction, and the other half in the opposite direction. Rubin was known for engaging women in the field of astronomy "available twenty four hours a day to women astronomers", and was recognized in 2004 with the National Academy of Sciences James Craig Watson medal for her contributions as well as her willingness to mentor young scientists.  


Sources: Larsen, Kristine. "Vera Cooper Rubin." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 1, 2019) 

"Profile: Vera Rubin and Dark Matter." American Museum of Natural History, edited by Steven Soter and Neil deGrasse Tyson, New Press, 2000,

Image credit: NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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