This year has seen the death of many noteworthy actors, musicians and celebrities. But it wasn’t all entertainers who we lost – Vera Rubin, an astrophysicist who helped prove the existence of dark matter died on Christmas day at the age of 88. She will be remembered as one of the greatest female scientists of all time.
Vera was known for her gift of overcoming challenges. Many who knew her believed she was unstoppable, even as a young girl. She was always fascinated with the stars, and with the help of her father, she built her own telescope when she was a child.
Vera went on to attend Vassar College, where she graduated in 1948 as the only recipient of a degree in astronomy. She later attended Cornell University, as Princeton did not accept female students into its astronomy program, and studied under well-known physicist Richard Feynman. In 1954, she earned a Ph.D. from Georgetown University, where she later taught her craft for 10 years.
In 1965, she came to Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and worked with Kent Ford to study stars and the Andromeda galaxy. Together, the pair discovered that gas and stars traveled at the same speed no matter how far away they are from the galactic center.
In the 1970s, Vera worked with other scientists to discover that an invisible mass was the reason the stars were moving. They determined that each galaxy contains a mass of dark matter, which is known as material that does not give off light and stretches beyond what we are able to see within our galaxy. Although there had been indicators that dark matter existed in the past, Vera’s work confirmed this.
Despite all of her great success, Vera always kept pushing for more opportunities for women in science. She believed that there was no problem that could be solved by a man and not a woman.
Vera received many awards for her success and dedication to her field. In 1981, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Then, in 1993, she received the country’s highest scientific prize, the National Medal of Science. A few years later, in 1996, she became the first woman since 1928 to be awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal.
Recently, there had been controversy about the Nobel committee and the fact that they had not awarded Vera with a prize. Many felt that her role in discovering dark matter completely changed the way we now see the universe and that it is perhaps the most important discovery in the field of physics.
But many close to Vera said that the awards didn’t matter much to her. She was just happy with the work she did and the discoveries she was able to make.
Although others have worked on the theory of dark matter after Vera, her contributions have played a large role in their discoveries.