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Welcome to the Washington Academy of Sciences. The Academy was incorporated in 1898 as an affiliation of Washington D.C. area
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.
 
 WAS Update

 

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.

Vera Rubin received her:
B.A. Vassar College (Astronomy)
M. A. Cornell University (Astronomy)
Ph.D. Georgetown University (Astronomy)
She remained for the rest of her career at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution in DC.
Holder of at least 11 honorary degrees, not to mention in 1993 receiving the U.S. National Medal of Science. Member of the National Academy of Sciences and many other professional societies

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.

Having set up one new field of research she moved to another. Dark matter is so much a part of today’s astronomy that we can easily forget how groundbreaking it was to propose.  It was in 1933 that Fritz Zwicky’s work with galaxy clusters identified the question of mass somehow missing in the observable universe – mass we do not see but gravity shows it is there.

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.

She and her colleagues observed hundreds of spiral galaxies showing that something other than the visible mass was responsible for the motion of stars.  As a result of Vera‘s groundbreaking work, it is now accepted that more than 90% of the material universe is composed of something non-luminous (i.e., dark).  Our starlit skies are mostly dark!  This shook the foundations of astronomy.  It is given to few of us to change a paradigm.  To this day we do not have a convincing explanation of what she found.  Defining this missing piece of the universe is currently one of astronomy’s most important pursuits.
Perhaps this missing piece is dark matter or perhaps on large scales Newtonian gravity needs to be modified.  We do not know.  Vera leaves us with a question to ponder.

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.

Among our nearly 60 Affiliated Societies and Institutions are Meadowlark Gardens and the D.C. Historical Society
Among the recipients of The Washington Academy’s Seals of Approval are Dan Berleant’s The Race to the Future – What Could Happen And What to Do and Karl Pribram’s The Form Within: My Point of View
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

The Washington Academy of Sciences has published articles of scientific interest continuously since 1899, first as The Proceedings until 1911, when it became The Journal. Click on the Journal button just below the header to view the Tables of Contents of 100+ issues of the Journal.

To see what the BBC has to say about our Seal of Approval program as well as our Science is Murder panel, go to http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20918398

To see one of our great lectures (in conjunction with NSF) go to http://www.washacadsci.org/activities-and-events/great-lecture-series-michael-coble/