Vera Cooper Rubin's success has expanded outward from the sphere of a warm, brilliant family to the challenge of a cosmos studded with galaxies and laced with mysterious dark matter. Along the way, she has inspired countless students, and especially many women who, before Rubin, were told they had no place in astronomy.
Rubin, an observational astronomer, is a Senior Fellow, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington where she continues to teach and research. A graduate of Vassar College, she received her Masters Degree from Cornell University and her Doctorate from Georgetown University. She also carries honorary Doctors of Science degrees from numerous universities, including Harvard, Yale, Smith and Grinnell.
She established her credentials early in her 50-plus year career, despite an institutionalized skepticism about a woman in a male-dominated field. A talk on star motions in 1950 to the American Astronomical Association caught the attention of the popular press; a 1954 thesis on large-scale distribution of galaxies was considered ground-breaking. By 1963 she had used a telescope to measure the rotation of a galaxy.
Rubin is perhaps best known for helping to establish the importance of dark matter in the universe, a consequence of her painstaking research of spiral galaxies, much of it a team effort with physicist Kent Ford.
She is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In 1965 she was the first woman allowed to observe at Palomar Observatory. In 1996 she became the first woman since 1828 to receive the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in London. She also was awarded the U.S. National Medal of Science in 1993.
She has been married since 1948 to Robert Rubin, a mathematical biophysicist. They have four children: Judith Young, an astronomer at the University of Massachusetts; David, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey; Karl, a mathematician at Stanford University; and Allan, a geologist at Princeton University.