Wendy L. Freedman grew up Toronto and received her BSc (1979), MS (1980), and PhD (1984) in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of Toronto. Her early work focused on the formation of stars, and the study of Cepheids, extremely bright stars whose fluctuating luminosity can be used to accurately determine distances between objects in space. This work led to her leadership role with the Hubble Space Telescope Key Project on the Extragalactic Distance Scale, which used Cepheid stars to measure the rate of the universe’s expansion.
In 1984, Freedman joined the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Pasadena, California, as a postdoctoral fellow. Three years later, she became a faculty member there—the first woman to join Carnegie’s permanent scientific staff. In March 2003, she was named the Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair and Director of the Carnegie Observatories.
Freedman has received many honors for her studies of galactic evolution and the evolution of stellar populations of galaxies, as well as for her leadership in bringing observational cosmology into the 21st century. These awards include the American Philosophical Society’s Magellanic Premium Award (2002), the Royal Astronomical Society’s George Darwin Lectureship (2001), and the Cosmos Club Foundation’s John P. McGovern Award in Science (2000). She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000, the National Academy of Sciences in 2003 and to the American Philosophical Society in 2007.
Since the completion of the Hubble Space Telescope Key Project, Freedman has been studying the behavior of supernovae to better determine the nature of the mysterious cosmic phenomenon known as dark energy, which appears to play an essential role in the rate at which the universe is expanding. Recently, Freedman has also turned to further refining the Hubble constant. Using NASA’s space-based Spitzer telescope, she is leading a team of scientists to decrease the uncertainly in the Hubble constant from 10 percent to 3 percent.