Rubin's work provided evidence for the existence of dark matterJeremy Keith

Like many women, Vera Rubin faced hostility throughout her life when she revealed her scientific ambitions. After informing her high school physics teacher of her acceptance into Vassar, Rubin was met with the response: “That’s great. As long as you stay away from science, it should be okay.”

Rubin developed a passion for astronomy from a very young age, fascinated by the stars saw from the window of her childhood bedroom. With the help of her father, she constructed a telescope out of cardboard and began to observe meteors. Although rejected from Princeton’s astronomy programme on the grounds that they did not admit women, Rubin earned a bachelor’s degree in astronomy from Vassar and went on to obtain her PhD from Georgetown before beginning a lengthy research career.

In the late 1970s, Rubin observed that the outermost components of the galaxies she observed were moving as quickly as those very near to the centre – a perplexing discovery which appeared to contradict Newton’s laws of motion and the results of classical mechanics. This observation would later be recognised as one of the first pieces of evidence for the existence of dark matter in our universe.


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In fact, Rubin’s calculations demonstrated that galaxies must contain at least five to ten times as much dark matter as ordinary matter. Although these theories surrounding dark matter were initially extremely controversial, the scientific community have since recognised Rubin’s work after further research and experiments took place, corroborating her data and conclusions.

Vera Rubin died in 2016, having never received the Nobel Prize that many of her colleagues claim she deserves for her revolutionary discoveries. No woman has received the Nobel Prize in Physics since 1963.

Described by fellow astrophysicists Faber and Bahcall as a “guiding light” for women who wished to have both families and careers in astronomy, Rubin spent her life advocating for women in science. Alongside Margaret Burbidge, she fought for more women to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences, describing the lack of progress for women in the field as “the saddest part of [her] life.”

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