Vera Rubin, the astronomer who identified dark matter, dies aged 88

Pioneering American scientist should have won the Nobel Prize for her revolutionary work, says colleague


Vera Rubin, a Jewish astronomer who helped find powerful evidence of dark matter, has died aged 88.

The pioneering scientist from Philadelphia passed away on Sunday, according to her son Allan Rubin. She had suffered from dementia for several years and was cared for in an assisted living facility in Princeton, New Jersey.

In the 1970s, Dr Rubin found evidence of a hypothetical type of invisible matter which is now known as dark matter.

She discovered that galaxies do not rotate the way they were predicted, which supported the theory that some other force was at work – namely dark matter.

Her scientific achievements earned her numerous honours, including becoming the second female astronomer to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She also received the National Medal of Science from President Clinton in 1993 “for her pioneering research programs in observational cosmology”.

Dr Rubin was born July 23, 1928 in Philadelphia to Jewish immigrants. Her father, Philip Cooper, was an electrical engineer from Lithuania. Her mother, Rose Applebaum, worked for Bell Telephone, calculating mileage for telephone lines. .

She graduated from Vassar College in 1948 with a degree in astronomy and earned a master’s degree from Cornell University. She achieved her doctorate at Georgetown University, where she was later employed as a faculty member for several years before working at the Carnegie Institution in Washington.

She once told the Catholic EWTN network that “my science and my religion are separate."

"I’m Jewish, and so religion to me is a kind of moral code and a kind of history," she said. "I try to do my science in a moral way, and I believe that ideally, science should be looked upon as something that helps us understand our role in the universe.”

 Emily Levesque, an astronomer at the University of Washington, told Astronomy Magazine in June that Dr Rubin should have been awarded the Nobel Prize since the discovery of dark matter had revolutionised astronomy and the concept of the universe.

The will of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the prizes, describes the physics prize as recognising “the most important discovery” within the field of physics.

“If dark matter doesn’t fit that description, I don’t know what does,” Ms Levesque said.

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