scientific societies. The formation of the Academy culminated a decade of planning under the leadership of the Philosophical Society of Washington. The founders included Alexander Graham Bell and Samuel Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. The purpose of the new Academy was to encourage the advancement of science and “to conduct, endow, or assist investigation in any department of science.” That purpose guided the Academy throughout its first 100 years and will continue to be our guide through the current century.
On December 25, 2016 we lost one of our Fellows, Dr. Vera Rubin. In 2012 we gave her the distinguished Career in Science award. The following is from the introduction to that award.
So many publications, conferences, invited lectures, etc. – too many to count.
In the meantime she developed new fields of astronomy.
This started with her doctoral dissertation where she showed that the distribution of galaxies in the universe was not smooth but lumpy. Initially criticized she was, of course, eventually vindicated. Later she and her collaborators were among the first to investigate if there are large-scale motions of galaxies superposed on the general expansion of the universe. Several large astronomical consortia are now making extensive observations to address this question defined for astronomy by Vera.
It was a question left hanging and mostly ignored for some 40 years. The astronomical community’s overwhelming expectation was that spiral galaxies (those that look like fried eggs) would exhibit a Keplerian behavior – rotation speed of a star about the galaxy center falls off with distance from the center, the way our planets do. The Earth revolves more quickly than Jupiter does about the Sun. No one bothered to study this because, of course, we knew the answer. It all changed in the 1970s when Vera began her work on spiral galaxies.
Moving on, her work with other galaxies confirmed the importance of galactic cannibalism (yes, a galaxy can subsume another one) and the importance of mergers in driving galaxy evolution. This is now considered a ‘given’ in modern astronomy – Vera had defined another entire field of research.
We enter 21st century astronomy assuming that dark matter exists. We still strive to explain large scale motions in the universe. From galaxy disks to halos surrounding galaxies to galaxy clusters the work of Vera Rubin changed the face of astronomy and made astronomical history. She will be greatly missed.
People are gathering stories of her life and planning memorials.
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|Among the recipients of The Washington Academy’s Awards for Scientific Work of High Merit are Harry Diamond for Engineering in 1941 and John Mather for Physical Sciences in 2006|
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