She’s Such a Geek, Edited by Annalen Newitz and Charlie Anders

She’s Such a Geek is a collection of essays by women who are scientists, computer programmers, and gamers. Written in 2006, it feels both very current (why yes, women do still face sexual discrimination in the job market) and oddly quaint (it predates the controversies surrounding Gamer Gate and the “Fake Geek Girl” stereotype). While I admired the essays, I felt oddly detached from them for two reasons. One reason is that I am neither a computer programmer, nor a scientist, nor a gamer and therefore my experiences as a self-identified geek have been different than those of women in gaming and in STEM. The other is that these women speak overwhelmingly of being the only girl in the room – and that’s usually not my experience.

 

The essays explore growing up, working, finding love, and raising kids within the geek culture. Stand out essays include “Really Good for a Girl,” by Kory Wells, in which Wells writes about being and raising a daughter. “Gimp Geek,” by Theda Cornes, talks about being a geek with a physical disability. “When Diana Prince Takes Off Her Glasses,” by Annalee Newitz, talks about some of the many cultural and logistical barriers women face in the workplace.

 

One reason I didn’t relate to this collection is that although I identify as a geek I’m not competing in a glaringly male-dominated field. I don’t mean to sound naive about sexism in publishing, but since I tend to write about romance novels, fiction by and about women, and women in history, I’m not faced with the same expectations or isolation that I might face in STEM. I appreciated this collection because it reminded me of the challenges that women in other fields have to deal with.

 

The biggest thing I got from this collection was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my experience as a woman who loves science fiction and fantasy. I’m almost never the only girl in the room. I never thought of science fiction and fantasy as being “for boys” because girls introduced me to it – Doctor Who, Star Trek, Elfquest, James Cameron movies, Blade Runner, Mad Max, X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer – all of these things were brought into my life by my friends, who were other teenage girls. Boys introduced us to gaming, but our core gaming group always consisted of at least as many girls as boys. We went to Star Trek conventions together and wrote fan fic together and I don’t think it occurred to any of us that we were trespassing on boys’ turf.

 

When men have introduced me to science fiction things, they’ve never suggested that I might like it “because I’m a girl” or “even though I’m a girl.” My dad thought I’d like Ray Bradbury because I was a precocious reader with a good imagination. My husband thought I’d like Babylon Five because, let’s be honest, my husband thinks that EVERYONE will inevitably love Babylon Five. He’s an equal opportunity B5 evangelist.

 

I feel incredibly blessed to have always been part of a community of geek women. She’s Such a Geek is a powerful reminder that many women are not so lucky. I’d love to see an updated version of this anthology that reflects the cultural changes of the last ten years. It’s been a long strange trip!

Between the Lines Book Club: Two New Mysteries!

between the lines book club logoAt the beginning of the month, I recommended some mysteries for readers of literary fiction who want to experiment with a new genre. Since then, I’ve gotten two recommendations from readers.
The first is a mystery series, the Mas Arai series by Naomi Hirahara.  This series follows aprivate detective named Mas Arai. He’s a Japanese American man who survived Hiroshima and works as a gardener in post-WWII Los Angeles. You can find Goodreads reviews here and an interview with the author at NPR.

51OEams9vmL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_

The second recommended book is not a mystery in the classic sense, but it has a mystery in it. The Speed of Light, by Elizabeth Rosner, involves the adult children of an elderly Jewish man who has become increasingly reclusive. As he begins to recover with the help of his housekeeper, his son and daughter uncover the story of how he survived the Holocaust. You can find Goodreads reviews here.

 

Next week I’ll be recommending some romances. No genre is as415wzxEZjML._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_ snubbed as the romance novel, and yet no genre is more best-selling or more stylistically diverse. To those who snub the romance, I give you Pride and Prejudice,Jane Eyre, and the comedies of William Shakespeare, and ask that each reader approach each genre with an open mind!

We’ll be meeting in person in June – alas, it’s a long wait while Arden-Dimick Library undergoes renovations. I’m excited to see the new furniture when summer comes!

Capsule Reviews: Heather Watches TV!

Guest blogger Heather Thayer has been checking out the new batch of science fiction and fantasy shows. Here’s her mini-revues for Lucifer, Colony, The Magicians, You Me and The Apocalypse, and The X-Files.

 

Lucifer, Fox, Monday Nights

This show is a hoot. Lucifer, yes THAT Lucifer, has gotten bored of hanging out in Hell, so he decides to take a vacation in LA, masquerading as a nightclub owner. He makes no effort to conceal who he is – a cop asks him how he could get shot and not be hurt he looks quizzically at the cop and says, “Did you not understand who I am? I’m immortal.” Later when she sees him get shot point blank, she asks again, and he’s all like, “what about IM-MORT-TAL don’t you get?” In the first episode a friend of his gets killed and Lucifer decides to help investigate. If this seems incongruous, remember that part of the Devil’s job is to punish sinners, and since he isn’t in Hell to do it after the guilty person dies, he figures he can do the job early while they are still alive. The character is funny and charming and naughty and is helpful in interrogations since people feel compelled to tell him their deepest desires. Then, in the blink of an eye, he is all scary avenging angel BECAUSE HE IS. It isn’t a deep show, but it is a fun romp.

 

lucifer-poster-fox 

Colony, USA Network, Thursday Nights

 

This is my new favorite show. Set in Los Angeles in a near future in which the Earth (or at least California) has been invaded by aliens. Many people died or were separated when the Visitors arrived. The human survivors of the Arrival live in smallish enclaves separated by enormous walls and policed by collaborators and drones. Our main characters, Will and Katie Bowman and their family, are trying to keep their heads down, struggling to survive. The show deals with issues of survival under unimaginable circumstances. Is it better to collaborate if it means survival of your family, or is it better to resist, even if resistance is futile? I’m not going to say more, because watching these issues unfold is what makes this show great.

Colony - Pilot

 

The Magicians, SyFy, Monday Nights

 

Based on books by Lev Grossman, this series focuses on Brakebills University, an institute of higher learning for magicians. I’ve read one of the books – a later one that takes place after Brakebills — and I recall it as an enjoyable light fantasy. Unfortunately, the show is not capturing that spirit. The fundamental problem with the show is that this is a character-driven show, but none of the characters is particularly likeable. The show seems determined to portray the worst of each of the characters, with the result that they all come across as pouty whiners, with the exception of Quentin, one of our main characters, who comes across as an incompetent boob AND a pouty whiner. And why is everyone smoking? I wanted to like this show, but I can’t stand any of these people and want to slap them all.

Carrie’s note: I haven’t watched the show, but my recollection of the books is that all of them were very cynical and all of them very intentionally feature incredibly unlikeable characters – the series is a subversion of stories like Narnia and Harry Potter, right down to all of the characters being incredibly dysfunctional. The books are well-written, sharp, imaginative, and fresh, but ugh those people!

TheMagicians.jpg

You, Me and the Apocalypse, NBC, Thursday Nights

 

This is a comedy about the end of the world. The show opens with the end – an asteroid hurtling into the atmosphere (covered by CNN, of course) – and centers on some people huddled in a bunker, watching it all on tv. The show follows these folks in the last days, after the end of the world was announced. I want to like this show, I really do. The problem is that it just isn’t that funny. The tone keeps slipping into deadly earnestness and attempted heartwarming vignettes, interspersed with one-liners that could have been funny if the tone were lighter, but as it is they fall flat. The show can’t seems to decide whether it is a touching tale of people doing their best as Judgment Day approaches or whether it is a broad comedy about the ridiculousness of the End Times. It clearly wants to be the latter, but it keeps injecting the former, which throws the whole thing off. Maybe it will improve, more likely it will get cancelled.

You_Me_End_1920x1080

X-Files, Fox, Monday Nights

 

Oh Chris Carter, what are we to do with you? What a waste of an eagerly anticipated reboot. I was hoping for six tightly constructed episodes with a compelling story arc that would bring us up to date with these characters that we love. I haven’t seen the final episode yet, but so far, the three earlier episodes written and directed by Mr. Carter are nonsensical mysticism with a heavy-handed dose of “the corporations are all out to get us” conspiracy theory mushed in. There is no defining thread that links the episodes – giving us stand alone episodes that sink or swim based on their own strengths or weaknesses. So far, all the episodes written by Mr. Carter sink like stone, and we’re glad to see them go.

 

The two episodes not written by Mr Carter swim. The stunning third episode “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” had me laughing and smiling and thinking and laughing and smiling again. It is an exuberant deconstruction of every monster story ever told and a delightful revisiting of the Mulder/Scully dynamic. The fourth episode, “Home Again” is a touching exploration of loss. Go ahead and watch those episodes and skip the others.

the-x-files-variety-cover-story

Carrie’s note: You can see more of my X-Files thoughts on Smart Bitches, Trashy BooksCan’t someone lock Chris Carter and George Lucas in a room somewhere and say, “Look guys, thanks for creating this thing, now NEVER TOUCH IT AGAIN?

Further Thoughts:

 

Carrie has written on The Shannara Chronicles. I agree with her completely. Other than Manu Bennett the actors were chosen for their ability to be pretty, not for their ability to act. Painful.

 

I wrote an earlier review of The Expanse. Having now watched the entire first season I have to give it a grudging thumbs up. The story became quite compelling as it went on. However, I recommend binge-watching as it is very difficult to follow week to week. If you haven’t read the books, expect to be lost from time to time, but it started drawing me in at the end.

 

I can’t wait for April and the return of 12 Monkeys (SyFy) and Orphan Black (BBC America). Squee!

 

Book Review: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

nimona_final.jpgNimona is one of those graphic novels that is always on lists with titles such as “Graphic Novels You Should Read.” It is usually described as “fun.” So, I read it. At the beginning it is fun. In fact, it’s incredibly fun. But even early on, this is one dark comic, and as it progresses, it becomes unbelievably dark. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s excellent. It’s a simply amazing graphic novel. But it’s some dark, dark shit.

 

Nimona is a graphic novel that originated as a webcomic. It details the adventures of Lord Ballister Blackheart, a self-proclaimed villain who grudgingly takes on a sidekick, Nimona. Blackheart fights against The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, and his nemesis is the self-proclaimed hero, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (not a typo).

 

Nimona is a book in which tropes are challenged, overturned, and blasted through walls. The story is a fabulous mix of stuff – knights with cyborg parts, robots, dragons, mad science…you name it. The Institution is not heroic at all. Blackheart and Goldenloin were once best friends, possibly lovers. Nimona is a child, but a bloodthirsty one who kills and who urges Blackheart to kill. But she’s also a funny, playful, silly person – and also a terribly tragic one.

 

Nimona starts off very funny and silly. Nimona, a shapeshifter, delights in playing tricks on Blackheart, which is why the Internet is alive with variation on “I’m not a ____! I’m a SHARK!” Blackheart is exasperated by her need for attention and her constant desire to kill their enemies with wild abandon.

16249418._SX540_

As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Nimona and Blackheart are both deeply sad and lonely. They establish a beautiful father/daughter relationship. When Nimona feels very needy, she begs Blackheart to carry her, and when he says she’s heavy, she turns into a cat. They watch scary movies together, and Blackheart fails to grasp why Nimona is scared by movies but not by anything in real life. They fight about pizza (he likes anchovies, which is probably the only truly villainous thing about him).

 

Ultimately, the story becomes so terrifying and heartbreaking hat writer Noelle Stevenson had to post the following online for her fans:

4p4bwpB

“No matter what happens, remember that there is always an alternate universe out there somewhere where this is a story about some hip gay dads who adopt a baby and everything turns out OK.”

 

This story is deeply melancholy, but not depressing. For one thing, it moves fast. It’s exciting. There’s a ton of action and plotting and crazy science and shapeshifting. For another thing, the ending is bittersweet, not a total downer. Some characters reconcile, some are redeemed, some both. Even in its darkest moments, this comic is, at its core, a sweet story. For all the explosions and dragons, it’s really about love – what we do when our hearts are broken, and how we put them back together. It’s also a story about reclaiming joy. So was it the lighthearted romp I expected, Hell no. It was something better.

nimona-unhand-that-science-slice.jpg

 

Classic Sci Fi: Dreadnought! by Diane Carey

Dreadnought_coverWelcome to my beloved Star Trek novels shelf. In an earlier review, I mentioned the high caliber of novels written in the 1980’s and 1990s. Many of these novels were written by women. Diane Carey has written thirty-nine Star Trek novels to date. You’d think at that speed she wouldn’t be able to produce much quality, but her novels are great – exciting, thoughtful, and often highlighting lesser-known characters or introducing new characters who have their own adventures. My favorite is Dreadnought, which introduces Lieutenant Piper.

 

Piper is a hotshot with dreams of her own command who is thrilled to find herself posted to the Enterprise. Alas for Piper, before she even gets a chance to change from her civvies into her uniform, she’s implicated in a treason plot. Piper and her roommates form a mirror group to Kirk’s command group. Piper is the boss and the first-person narrator of the book. She’s human, but has never been to Earth before Command School (she’s descended from colonists of Proxima Beta, another planet). Scanner is the tech guy. He’s human, from the American South. Merete is the doctor (she’s another human descendent of colonists). And Sarda is Vulcan.

 

Piper has another roommate who is a Gorn. I would have loved for the Gorn to have been part of the team, although the Gorn doesn’t seem to communicate verbally so no telling how that would have worked out. Presumably due to this issue, the Gorn is sadly left behind. One of my favorite things about the novels is that, unlike the show, they are unconstrained by technological and budgetary limits, and therefore they have the opportunity to introduce more unusual alien species. Authors Barbara Hambly and Diane Duane had a lot of fun introducing all kinds of bizarre life forms. It was a disappointment to start the book in that direction and quickly devolve into a book in which everyone looks human with the exception of pointy ears.

 

Piper and Sarda have a complicated history in which she spilled some secrets about him “for his own good” at Starfleet Academy and then proceeded to bully him about being Vulcan. This kind of bigotry is omnipresent in Star Trek: The Original Series. It’s a show that very much pushes for inclusion, and yet has an odd dynamic in that people feel compelled to constantly needle Spock about being Vulcan without actually trying to understand him. McCoy is the most blatant offender, with his comments usually being played for laughs. It’s refreshing to see that Piper quickly realizes how inappropriate her reactions to Sarda are. Instead of continually trying to challenge him to behave in a more human manner, she starts to educate herself about Vulcan history and education, and she becomes more respectful of Sarda’s boundaries. This allows them to develop a healthy balance that nicely mirrors the Kirk/Spock relationship and even improves on that relationship a bit.

 

Piper is brash, awkward, nervous, and very young. In the course of this book and the sequel, Battlestations, it’s great fun to watch her mature as a leader. This isn’t a heavy book, but it has some substance behind it as people deal with cultural and ethical problems. It’s one of my go-to books for the bathtub, or when I’m sick. When I was nursing my baby, who wanted to be held all the time, I read piles of Star Trek novels, because they were fast reads that kept my attention and neither strained nor insulted my intelligence, and because they were lightweight paperbacks that I could hold in one hand when I had a baby in the other.

 

The other time in my life when I read a lot of Star Trek novels was high school. Whatever flaws these novels have, they were instrumental in introducing me to the work of many women who were writing science fiction, and they matter-of-factly placed female characters in leadership positions. This was long before Star Trek: Voyager. I was thrilled and astonished at the idea that women would be starship captains, but these books treated the concept of women in high positions of power across multiple disciplines as a matter of course. It’s largely thanks to these novels that I never thought of science fiction as something that was “for boys.” I’ll always be grateful to the women of the Star Trek novels for helping me believe that Space, actual and literary, is a Frontier for everyone.

Between the Lines Book Club: It’s a Mystery Edition!

between the lines book club logoDear Book Clubbers, we are on a hiatus while Arden Dimick Library gets a makeover – our next in person meeting will be on June 25, 2016. In the meantime, some of my book clubbers were chatting after our last meeting and asking for book recommendations for the break. While many of my regular readers are into genre fiction (science fiction, comics, and romance) many of my book clubbers are more well-versed in literary fiction and nonfiction. So once a month between now and June, I’m going to reprint one of my Gateway Drug columns from the genres of mystery, fantasy, science fiction, romance, and humor. This is a great chance to try something new!

 

This month I’m recommending some mysteries. I find that I’m usually not terribly interested in whodunnit, but I enjoy mysteries because they often allow the reader to peek into hidden parts of society. Mysteries can be set in any time and location, and in the course of events the detective will encounter all sorts of people. Thanks to mysteries I’ve read about the African-American neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1940s, modern day Saudi Arabia, Victorian England, and more. Click on the link to find a list of recommendations that range all over the world. Don’t forget the classics, dear Watson!

https://geekgirlinlove.com/category/gateway-drugs/

tauchnitz-4790-the-case-book-of-sherlock-holmes

 

 

 

History’s Hidden Heroes: Vera Rubin

My favorite thing to write for this blog has always been ‘History’s Hidden Heroes’, in which I showcased the lives and accomplishments of scientists of color, LGTB scientists, and female scientists. This feature fell by the wayside when I started writing Kickass Women for Smart Bitches Trashy BooksGuest writer Max Fagin is bringing the Heroes back with his contribution about scientist Vera Rubin. bonus – unlike me, Max is actually a scientist, so his explanations of Rubin’s accomplishments are far more sophisticated than my own, which run along the lines of, “IDK, she discovered stuff, it was cool.” Enjoy!

It’s no secret that STEM has a major problem with obtaining gender parity, and astronomy is not immune to that problem. Astronomy doesn’t have it as bad as, say, computer science (with 18% women at the PhD level) but it isn’t doing as well as biology (58% women, again at the PhD level). Astronomy sits somewhere in the middle of the STEM pack with 35% of new PhDs going to women in 2012.

But as arguably the oldest science, astronomy has also been a field of many firsts for women in STEM. America’s first woman to be hired as a college professor was Maria Mitchell, who was hired by Vassar College in 1843 as a professor of astronomy. At around the same time, the first woman to receive a salary for her work as a professional scientist was the German astronomer Caroline Herschel.

The subject of today’s History’s Hidden Heroes is one of those women: Vera Rubin. A woman who overcame the biases of her day to discover an even bigger bias in the universe itself…
Vera Cooper Rubin '48

Up until the late 1970’s, if you were to ask an astronomer what the universe was made of, a complete list would be composed of:

 

1) Stars (living and dead)

2) Interstellar gas and dust

3) Black holes

4) Planets

5) Whatever detritus happens to be on that planet’s surface

 

(Note, that last category would include us). These are the things we typically think of as “normal” matter, where “normal” means stuff composed of protons, neutrons and electrons, sometimes in the form of atoms and chemicals, or ionized plasma.

However, ask an astronomer today what the universe is made of, and you will probably hear a list containing something that isn’t on that 1970’s list: Dark Matter. Vera Rubin was the first scientist to uncover observational evidence that Dark Matter was a real thing, and to reveal that “normal” matter was far from normal, but comprised only 20% of the matter in our universe. All past detection methods had been heavily biased towards detecting this normal matter, but that didn’t mean Dark Matter wasn’t real, and didn’t mean it hadn’t played a profound part in the formation and evolution of our universe.

Vera Rubin earned her BA in astronomy from Vassar college in 1957 (the college that had hired Maria Mitchell, the first woman to hold a professorship in the United States). Vassar had been founded as an all girls school in 1861 (and would remain so until 1969) but even before going co-ed, it had a reputation for producing smart and driven graduates, many of whom has already made significant contributions to science and engineering, including Admiral Grace Hopper, one of the inventors of COBOL, an early programing language. (Vassar also had a reputation in the fictional realm as well, counting among its many fictional alumni the smartest James Bond girl, NASA scientist Dr. Holly Goodhead, who proudly represented Vassar in the stupidest James Bond movie, Moonraker.)

 

Rubin graduated from Vassar as the only astronomy major in her class, and went on to complete her Masters in Astronomy at Cornell (after being rejected from Princeton on the grounds that their astronomy department did not admit women). Rubin then completed a PhD at Georgetown University under the famous cosmologist George Gamow.

At this era in astronomy, before the invention of space based telescopes, cosmology was focused on studying galaxies in our corner of the universe to see what their structure and distribution could tell us about the universe at large. This was the field that Dr. Rubin made her greatest discovery in during the 1970’s, while conducting observations of galactic rotation curves.

Under the influence of gravity, objects behave in extremely predictable ways. Since the days of Kepler, it had been understood that the further away an object (like a planet) was from the body it was orbiting (like a star) the slower it would be traveling in its orbit. The embodiment of this was captured in what became known as Kepler’s 3rd law, that the square of a planet’s period (the time it takes to complete one orbit) was proportional to the cube of the object’s semimajor axis (its distance from the star).

Although the geometry was more complicated on galactic scales, these rules applied to stars orbiting around the center of their galaxies as well. The farther away a star was from the center of the galaxy, the slower it should be orbiting.

But when Rubin measured the speed of stars in the nearby Andromeda galaxy, this was not what she saw. Outside the galactic core, the stars did not continue to slow down as one looked further away from the center of the galaxy. Instead, the velocity of the stars plateaued into a flat line, all the way to the edge of the galaxy where the stars stopped and intergalactic space began.

 

rubin_extra_pic.jpg

 

What could cause the stars to behave like that? By playing with the distribution of mass, it was quickly noticed that this “flat rotation curve” could be explained if there was some “missing mass” distributed in a spherical halo around the galaxy. The idea that astronomers might have missed some of the galaxies mass was not so far fetched. After all, galaxies contain more than just luminous stars. They also contained giant clouds of interstellar gas and dust, which can only be seen in the visible band by the starlight it reflects, or blocks out. But astronomers knew where gas and dust tended to be in a galaxy: In the galactic plane. Much like stars, it never tended to wander very far from the flat disk of the galaxy. And besides, if the missing mass was just gas and dust, an enormous amount of starlight would be obscured. Orders of magnitude more than what was actually observed in nearby galaxies.

 

n891_block.jpg

NGC 891: A galaxy seen edge on, where dust is clearly visible from the starlight it obscures.

 

Astronomers began to consider more exotic possibilities. What if galaxies were surrounded by swarms of super compact dead stars? If the missing mass was composed of very small very dense objects orbiting the galaxy in a spherical cloud, their small size wouldn’t necessarily block the light from the stars (unlike the diffuse distributed clouds of gas and dust).

But in order to account for the amount of mass that was missing, these objects (and others like them, eventually referred to as MACHOS, for MAssively Compact Halo ObjectS), would have to be so numerous that they would still occasionally transit (pass in front of) a background star, causing the star’s light to briefly fluctuate in a very characteristic way. Search after search for these transiting MACHOs over the past few decades has come up empty.

Perhaps the missing mass could be explained by some very massive subatomic particle? If it was, this particle would have to be very weakly interacting, or else we would have seen it in our detectors by now. Unfortunately, these particles (now called WIMPs, for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) have also eluded detection by every effort mounted so far to find them.

The seeming futility of the search even drove some scientists to suggest that we don’t understand gravity as well as we thought we did. Perhaps, at galactic scales, gravity required some additional correction factor that would explain the rotation of galaxies. These possibilities (called MONDs, for MOdifications to Newtonian Dynamics) originally showed a great deal of promise for explaining galactic rotation curves, but observations in the early 00’s of galactic clusters, and of elemental abundances in the early universe effectively ruled it out as an option as well.

bulletcluster_comp_f2048.jpg

The bullet cluster. Two clusters of colliding galaxies, the observations of which provided some of the first evidence that modifications to gravity could not explain the behavior attributed of Dark Matter.

 

Our existing model of gravity has withstood the test, leaving WIMPs as the best candidate for Dark Matter (though entirely by default). In the decades since Dr. Rubin’s discovery, we have simply ruled out anything else it really could be. However we slice it, ~80% of the mass in our universe is composed of “something” that doesn’t emit or obscure light (i.e. is invisible) doesn’t decay or radiate in anyway we can yet detect, and betrays its presence solely by exerting a pull of gravity on the normal matter around it (Though the term “normal” matter could now be said to be a misnomer. If anything, the matter that makes up the stars, dust, gas, planets, rock and squishy stuff that composes us is the unusual kind of matter. Physicists now prefer the term “Baryonic matter” to describe this type of everyday matter.)

The Nobel prize in physics is the most male dominated of all the original Nobel prizes. It has been awarded to a woman only twice since it was established in 1901: Most recently in 1963 when it was shared by three physicists, including Maria Goeppert Mayer for work on deriving a successful theoretical model of the nuclear shell. Before that, the only other woman to win the prize was Marie and Pierre Curie for their work on radiation.

Dr. Rubin is perhaps the best candidate to break this 50 year dry spell, and many would say that Dr. Rubin is long overdue for her prize, the original discovery being made almost 45 years ago. Such a long wait is not unprecedented (the 2013 prize for the discovery of the Higgs Bozon was the culmination of a prediction made 50 years before the awarding of the prize). However, in 2012, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for the discovery of the (similarly named but entirely unrelated) Dark ENERGY. While no one in the astrophysics community doubted that the discovery of Dark Energy (which outnumbers both Dark Matter and baryonic matter in our universe by 4 to 1) was an incredibly significant discovery, many people were surprised that the prize was awarded so early. The discovery of Dark Energy was only 13 years only in 2013. Some might say Dr. Rubin and the discovery of Dark Matter is overdue for its medal.

 

In the meantime, Dr. Rubin has retired from astronomy, but remains an active proponent of women in STEM. I had the privilege of hearing her talk about her work when she returned to Vassar while I was a student there in 2007. It was the first time I really accepted that Dark Matter was a real thing (in my defence, early 2007 was before some of the clinching observations were made of galactic clusters and cosmology that made MOND no longer a tenable theory.) Every year, when nomination season rolls around, I hope that Dr. Rubin will receive the call from the Nobel Committee, and I still think she will. Astronomy, by the nature of the subject, only attracts those who can learn to be patient, but waiting that long for the recognition a discovery like that must be a maddening prospect, even for a mind as tuned to astronomy as Vera Rubin’s.

vera-rubin.jpg

 

Additional reading:

http://modernnotion.com/forgotten-woman-helped-discover-dark-matter/

http://news.discovery.com/space/always-a-bridesmaid-vera-rubin-and-the-nobel-prize.htm