Michael A. Stecker


Vera Florence (nee: Cooper) Rubin, Ph.D.
Vera Rubin obituary
Senior Fellow, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington
photo taken on July 23, 2005

Vera Cooper Rubin studied mathematics and astronomy at Vassar College  After graduation she and her physicist husband Bob Rubin attended Cornell University where she received the M.A. degree.  She then went on to become the first doctoral candidate in astronomy at Georgetown University.  Then the mother of two children required her taking night classes while her parents watched her 2 children and her husband waited for her in the car.  Vera taught and did research at Georgetown for several years and had 2 more children.  Then in 1965 she got a job working for the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, part of the Carnegie Institution of Washington where she has remained to this day.  She is best known for the study of rotational speeds in galaxies which led to the theory of dark matter which is ten times more numerous than the commonly perceived matter that we can see and has been considered the only existing matter until her monumental study.
In 1993 Vera Rubin received the National Medal of Science (see below) — the nation’s highest scientific award — for “her pioneering research ... which demonstrated that much of the matter in the universe is dark...”  She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1981 and in 1996 she became the first woman to receive the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal since Caroline Hershel, who was awarded the prize in 1828. Among her other honors, Rubin was chosen to be the American Astronomical Society’s Henry Norris Russell Lecturer in 1994, she won the Cosmology Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation in 2002, and in 2003 she received the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Medal from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.  She holds honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Michigan, Williams College and others.

National Medal of Science

The National Medal of Science is the nation’s highest scientific honor. Established by Congress in 1959, it was intended to be bestowed annually by the President of the United States on a select group of individuals deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences.  In 1980 Congress expanded this recognition to include the social and behavioral sciences. 

The Committee of 12 scientists and engineers is appointed by the President to evaluate the nominees for the Award. Since its establishment, the National Medal of Science has been awarded to 409 distinguished scientists and engineers whose careers spanned decades of research and development.  The recipients database from 1962 to the present can be searched at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/awards/nms/recipients.cfm .

To date only three women have won the award in the physical sciences.

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