1928 - 2016

Dark matter

Vera Rubin was an American astronomer whose observations contributed significantly to the confirmation of dark matter. She was a pioneer in the study of the galaxy rotation problem, a discrepancy between the predicted and observed motion of galaxies. Her research showed that galaxies must contain at least 5-10 times as much dark matter as ordinary matter. Without this additional dark matter, the galaxies would fly apart because of their high rotational speeds. She is considered to be one of the most influential astronomers of her time.

After receiving a Bachelors from Vassar College in 1948, she wanted to enroll in Princeton’s graduate program but could not because women were not allowed in the graduate astronomy program until 1975. Instead, she did a masters in physics at Cornell University. In 1954, she obtained her PhD with a thesis that concluded that, rather than being randomly distributed, galaxies clustered together, an idea which was not further pursued until decades later. In 1965, she was the first woman to be authorized to use the instruments at the Palomar Observatory, where a new restroom had to be built, as women’s facilities were not yet available.

Throughout her career, she faced discrimination but managed to have both a family and a successful career. She became a staunch champion of women in science and is the first woman to have a major observatory, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, named after her.

-> Vera Robin's biography is available at ETH Zurich Library @swisscovery

Written by: Gina Cannarozzi.