Vera Rubin



children.  All four of her children earned PhD’s in the natural sciences.  Her children recalled later in life that their mother made a life of science appear desirable and fun, which motivated them to become scientists themselves.

Rubin studied for her Ph.D. at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.  Her dissertation concluded galaxies clumped together, rather than being randomly distributed through the universe, was completed in 1954.  This was a controversial idea at that time.

For the next eleven years, Rubin held various academic positions:  Instructor of Mathematics and Physics, a research associate astronomer, and lecturer and finally assistant professor of astronomy at Georgetown University.

In 1963, collaborating with Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge, Vera made her first observations of the rotation of galaxies with the McDonald Observatory’s 82-inch telescope.  In 1965 she joined the Carnegie Institution of Washington, later called Carnegie Institute of Science, and applied to observe at the Palomar Observatory.  At that time, the observatory did not have facilities for women.  Sidestepping the lack of facilities, she created her own women’s restroom, and became the first female astronomer to observe at Palomar.

Wishing to avoid controversial areas of astronomy, she began to study the rotation and outer reaches of galaxies.  Along with collaborator, and instrument-maker Kent Ford, using his image intensifier spectrograph. Together they were able to resolve spectra of astronomical objects that were previously too dim for spectral analysis. They discovered that there were flat rotation curves in the outer reaches of the galaxies.  The outermost components of the galaxy were moving as quickly as those close to the center.  Her research showed that spiral galaxies, if the gravity of their constituent stars was all that was holding them together, rotate quickly enough that they should

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