Sometime in the late 1940s, a young lady wanted to pursue a doctoral program in Astronomy (or related areas) at Princeton University. The University was not admitting women at that time, and she went on to study at Cornell, and Georgetown Universities.
On 31st May 2005, Princeton awarded the lady (then about 77 years old) an honorary doctorate, and wrote of her: “A childhood fascination with the motion of stars led her to a half-century career that has illuminated our view of the universe. Through meticulous observations, she revealed the presence of vast quantities of a mysterious, unseen substance called dark matter. Her research leaves us with the unsettling yet inspiring conclusion that all the familiar materials of our Earth and sun — hydrogen, oxygen, even gold and silver — are but minor players in a universe made mostly of matter we can barely fathom. Even when facing the skepticism of peers, her contagious enthusiasm and dedicated professionalism have made her a mentor and role model to many who follow the beacon of her example.”
Vera Rubin, by any account i can think of, was a class act. Unfazed by gender discrimination, and discouragement in her early days from peers, she went on to blaze a trail to the edge of the universe, and raise a family of 4 children (each of whom went on to earn doctorates and become scientists) with her scientist husband.
Her husband for 60 years (till his passing), Robert Rubin, it is reported, “arranged his life so his wife….could travel for research and to use telescopes in the United States and Chile.”
Addressing the graduating Class of 1996 (“Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters”) at the University of California, Berkeley, she spoke of the incredible privilege life is. “You drank the milk, the carbon atom entered your bloodstream, traveled to your brain, displaced a carbon atom, and took part in the thought process permitting you to pass your final exam. So without that single carbon atom, made in some star billions of years ago, you might have failed to receive your diploma today. See how lucky you have been?”
For those who aspired to be scientists, she had words that apply to any of us. “Don’t give up. Science is hard and demanding, but each of you must believe that you can succeed. It may seem unlikely tonight, but there is not one among you who cannot make important, major contributions to the world of science. At my commencement on May 17, 48 years ago, the probability that I would be addressing you tonight surely was zero.”
She then offered her hopes for the young audience. “I hope that you will fight injustice and discrimination in all its guises. I hope you will value diversity among your friends, among your colleagues….I hope that when you are in charge, you will do better than my generation has.”
She ended with this incredible line:
“Each one of you can change the world, for you are made of star stuff, and you are connected to the universe.”