Groundbreaking astrophysicist Vera Rubin died at 88 years old on December 25th, 2016, said the Carnegie Institution of Science. She is survived by her son, Allan Rubin.
Vera Rubin was a significant figure in the scientific community and spent many of her years researching with the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
“[She was] a national treasure as an accomplished astronomer and a wonderful role model for young scientists. We are very saddened by this loss,” said Carnegie president Matthew Scott.
According to the American Museum of Natural History’s profile on the researcher, Rubin’s passion was obvious throughout her life. She was the only astronomy major to graduate from Vassar College in 1948. Despite Princeton’s refusal to accept women into their astronomy program at the time, Rubin persevered and eventually earned degrees from Cornell and Georgetown. After receiving her Ph.D, she taught at Georgetown for a while before landing a job at Carnegie.
She was the first woman to observe at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory and helped advance astronomy in the 20th century by proving the existence of dark matter, alongside physicist W. Kent Ford, in the 1970s.
The idea of dark matter had existed since the 30s, but Vera Rubin’s research with Ford had an immense impact on astronomy.
“The existence of dark matter has utterly revolutionized our concept of the universe and our entire field,” said University of Washington astronomer, Emily Levesque. “The ongoing effort to understand the role of dark matter has basically spawned entire subfields within astrophysics and particle physics.”
Despite many notable awards in her field, including the National Medal of Science in 1993, Rubin never received a Nobel Prize for her work. Rubin still managed to accomplish many things professionally as well as inspire the next generation of female astronomers.
According to astrophysicist Neta Bahcall, Vera Rubin did work to provide new opportunities for women where she could, including advocating for women to be included in the Cosmos Club, a private social salon at Princeton.
“Vera never gave up on anything,” said Bahcall. “She fought them until they finally allowed women. She did it all in a very good-natured way. It was very difficult to be mad at her.”
“Don’t let anyone keep you down for silly reasons such as who you are,” said Rubin when she was counseling American Museum of Natural History astrophysicist Rebecca Oppenheimer. “And don’t worry about prizes and fame. The real prize is finding something new out there.”