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The first biography of a pioneering scientist who made significant contributions to our understanding of dark matter and championed the advancement of women in science. One of the great lingering mysteries of the universe is dark matter. Scientists are not sure what it is, but most believe it's out there, and in abundance. The astronomer who finally convinced many of them w The first biography of a pioneering scientist who made significant contributions to our understanding of dark matter and championed the advancement of women in science. One of the great lingering mysteries of the universe is dark matter. Scientists are not sure what it is, but most believe it's out there, and in abundance. The astronomer who finally convinced many of them was Vera Rubin. When Rubin died in 2016, she was regarded as one of the most influential astronomers of her era. Her research on the rotation of spiral galaxies was groundbreaking, and her observations contributed significantly to the confirmation of dark matter, a most notable achievement. In Vera Rubin: A Life, prolific science writers Jacqueline Mitton and Simon Mitton provide a detailed, accessible overview of Rubin's work, showing how she leveraged immense curiosity, profound intelligence, and novel technologies to help transform our understanding of the cosmos. But Rubin's impact was not limited to her contributions to scientific knowledge. She also helped to transform scientific practice by promoting the careers of women researchers. Not content to be an inspiration, Rubin was a mentor and a champion. She advocated for hiring women faculty, inviting women speakers to major conferences, and honoring women with awards that were historically the exclusive province of men. Rubin's papers and correspondence yield vivid insights into her life and work, as she faced down gender discrimination and met the demands of family and research throughout a long and influential career. Deftly written, with both scientific experts and general readers in mind, Vera Rubin is a portrait of a woman with insatiable curiosity about the universe who never stopped asking questions and encouraging other women to do the same.


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The first biography of a pioneering scientist who made significant contributions to our understanding of dark matter and championed the advancement of women in science. One of the great lingering mysteries of the universe is dark matter. Scientists are not sure what it is, but most believe it's out there, and in abundance. The astronomer who finally convinced many of them w The first biography of a pioneering scientist who made significant contributions to our understanding of dark matter and championed the advancement of women in science. One of the great lingering mysteries of the universe is dark matter. Scientists are not sure what it is, but most believe it's out there, and in abundance. The astronomer who finally convinced many of them was Vera Rubin. When Rubin died in 2016, she was regarded as one of the most influential astronomers of her era. Her research on the rotation of spiral galaxies was groundbreaking, and her observations contributed significantly to the confirmation of dark matter, a most notable achievement. In Vera Rubin: A Life, prolific science writers Jacqueline Mitton and Simon Mitton provide a detailed, accessible overview of Rubin's work, showing how she leveraged immense curiosity, profound intelligence, and novel technologies to help transform our understanding of the cosmos. But Rubin's impact was not limited to her contributions to scientific knowledge. She also helped to transform scientific practice by promoting the careers of women researchers. Not content to be an inspiration, Rubin was a mentor and a champion. She advocated for hiring women faculty, inviting women speakers to major conferences, and honoring women with awards that were historically the exclusive province of men. Rubin's papers and correspondence yield vivid insights into her life and work, as she faced down gender discrimination and met the demands of family and research throughout a long and influential career. Deftly written, with both scientific experts and general readers in mind, Vera Rubin is a portrait of a woman with insatiable curiosity about the universe who never stopped asking questions and encouraging other women to do the same.

36 review for Vera Rubin: A Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Barbaro

    An amazing book about a true scientific pioneer. Wonderfully written, engaging, and enlightening. Highly recommend.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Over the course of a long and productive career, Vera Rubin proved a pioneer in a number of important respects. As an astronomer, she was one of the first to study spiral galaxies, and her work helped convince scientists of the existence of dark matter. As a woman living in America in the mid-20th century, she forged a career in the sciences at a time when few women did so – and even fewer of whom did so while married and raising a family. To have done either was noteworthy. To have done both wa Over the course of a long and productive career, Vera Rubin proved a pioneer in a number of important respects. As an astronomer, she was one of the first to study spiral galaxies, and her work helped convince scientists of the existence of dark matter. As a woman living in America in the mid-20th century, she forged a career in the sciences at a time when few women did so – and even fewer of whom did so while married and raising a family. To have done either was noteworthy. To have done both was truly remarkable. To tell the story of Rubin’s life properly it is important to incorporate both of these achievements into it. And this is what Jacqueline and Simon Mitton do in their biography of the astronomer. As accomplished astronomers and scientific authors in their own right, they bring to it both their shared expertise in the subject and their experience with explaining it in a way that is accessible to the lay reader. Both skills are on full display in their retelling of Rubin’s contributions and the odds she overcame in order to make them. Why Rubin became an astronomer, as the Mittons explain, was entirely due to her sister Ruth’s choice of beds. When the Rubin family moved into their new home in Washington D.C. in 1939, Ruth’s choice of the bed next to the wall left Vera with the one by the window. Staring at the night sky sparked Vera’s curiosity, leading her to embark upon her own amateur explorations. Such was her determination that she plowed through the obstacles so common to women interested in science – the discouragement of a high school physics instructor, the challenges of attending college in an era when most women didn’t, the expectation of many of the professionals whom she encountered that she would give up on her career once she got married. Even when Rubin did get married and had four children, this imposed only a pause on her path towards becoming an astronomer. One of the factors working in Rubin’s favor was the growing support given to astronomy after the Second World War. Thanks to it, she was able to find part-time employment working on federally funded research projects to observe solar activity. Yet Rubin’s interests extended far beyond the Solar System, as her passion was for understanding galaxies themselves. It was when she gained a post at the Carnegie Institution of Washington that Rubin was able at last to focus on her passion for observational astronomy. Over the next several years Rubin studied galactic expansion and the rotation of galaxies, with her calculations on the latter subsequently providing the first evidence of dark matter. Not only do the Mitton’s description of Rubin’s scientific work help to understand what she accomplished, but the role she played in helping us to better understand the universe. It is the sheer scale of this which probably renders it her greatest achievement, which is not to diminish Rubin’s considerable activism (especially in her later years) for women’s equality in the sciences. Either achievement justifies her biography; taken together they make for a account of an accomplished life that is well worth reading.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ricardo

    Vera Cooper Rubin es justamente famosa por su trabajo en curvas de rotación de galaxias espirales, generalmente tomada como la evidencia más clara para la existencia de la materia oscura. La historia, tanto la de la vida y carrera de Rubin, así como la interpretación de las curvas de rotación, da para mucho más que eso, y esta biografía le hace justicia a ambas. La historia de Vera Rubin se aleja muchísimo de la narrativa tradicional del genio solitario y torturado. Al contrario, su vida y carre Vera Cooper Rubin es justamente famosa por su trabajo en curvas de rotación de galaxias espirales, generalmente tomada como la evidencia más clara para la existencia de la materia oscura. La historia, tanto la de la vida y carrera de Rubin, así como la interpretación de las curvas de rotación, da para mucho más que eso, y esta biografía le hace justicia a ambas. La historia de Vera Rubin se aleja muchísimo de la narrativa tradicional del genio solitario y torturado. Al contrario, su vida y carrera son profundamente relatable. Su tesis doctoral no cambió la historia de la física como la de Cecilia Payne (cf. What Stars are Made of: The Life of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin), ni fue un prodigio de la astrofísica como Chandrasekhar (c.f. Chandra: A Biography of S. Chandrasekhar).  Es mas, ni siquiera le gustaba mucho la fisica! Algo que la biografía deja claro es que el avance científico nunca se hace solo. Si bien mucha gente le puso obstáculos en el camino, en definitiva fueron más los que la ayudaron: sus padres y su esposo Bob en toda la crianza de sus 4 hijos; y los distintos mentores y colaboradores a lo largo de su carrera, con especial énfasis en la figura de Kent Ford, el inventor de la cámara y espectrógrafo con que Rubin hizo sus descubrimientos más famosos, y con quien escribió varias decenas de papers. It takes a village. Algo que se agradece un montón, es que además de relatar minuciosamente sus investigaciones en dinámica de galaxias espirales, también otorga una descripción bastante detallada de todos los campos en que Rubin incursionó: estructura a gran escala, la dinámica de grupos compactos, counter-rotating cores, SMBHs. Incluso aquellos tópicos en que ella solo fue asistente de investigación al comienzo de su carrera. La biografía además se aleja completamente de una hagiografía, y no se arredra en mencionar episodios que la misma Rubin omitió en sus semblanzas autobiográficas (e.g. Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters ), ni en mencionar los momentos en que ella tal vez fue más políticamente correcta que la situación ameritaba. Como justo hoy me toco referar un paper, no puedo dejar de criticar una omisión importantísima, quizás la única que comete este libro. Las curvas de rotación plana de galaxias espirales no son necesariamente evidencia de materia oscura, sino que alternativamente pueden indicar que la gravedad no se comporta como creemos. La misma Vera Rubin se inclinaba más por esta última alternativa en sus años postreros. Entre descubrir una partícula subatómica nueva o demostrar que Einstein estaba equivocado, que preferirian ustedes? 🙂 Para finalizar les dejo una foto de la conferencia que se hizo en su honor para su cumpleanos numero 81. Algunos la reconocerán en la primera fila, pero solo los verdaderamente iniciados sabrán donde aparezco yo n_n

  4. 4 out of 5

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