We lost a luminary by the name of Professor Vera Rubin on December 25th, 2016. This gives us the motive to reflect on the many ways in which this person has enriched science as well as society.
Dr. Rubin made the startling discovery that galaxies are put together such that the stars in the outskirts rotate with the same speeds as the stars closer to their centers. Translated, the implication is that there is a significant amount of matter that we cannot see in the outer parts of galaxies. The stars motion is changed by this unseen material, so we see its presence only by indirect methods. We call this mysterious material Dark Matter.
This was one of the outstanding discoveries of the 20th century, one which many argue is sufficient to have merited a Nobel Prize in Physics.
From all the information I have, she has handled her great scientific success with confidence and grace. This makes her a role model for female scientists, a group of people still underrepresented in science.
Perhaps less discussed, and also very important, is the work she has done to teach us also about how to achieve a work-family balance. She had four children with her husband of 59 years. All her children grew up to get Ph. D.’s in different science and math disciplines.
As a quick anecdote to show her dedication to career and family, she states that she was able to make it home by 3 pm each day to greet her children as they came home from school, and then managed to work from home late into the night. It is amazing that she figured out how to juggle home and work in the 1960s and 1970s. This is because such feat is still the subject of active struggle today.
In sum, we have seen a great loss, and with any luck, the study of her life approach can also teach us about science and family looking forward to the future.