Vera Cooper Rubin, the second daughter of Rose and Philip Cooper, was born on July 23, 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Since age ten she was interested in astronomy and would constantly look at the stars. At age fourteen she built her first telescope with the help of her father. Although she was encouraged by many not to pursue a career in science, she did so anyways. She got a scholarship to Vassar College (a women’s college) where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in astronomy in 1948. From there she attended Cornell where she met her husband Bob Rubin, a physicist. Originally she had applied to Princeton but was told that Princeton did not accept women into their astronomy program. Princeton only started accepting women into their astronomy program in 1975. She graduated from Cornell with a master’s degree in 1951. She then attended Georgetown and got her doctorate from there in 1954. Interestingly, Vera Rubin does not drive so her husband Bob would drive her to night classes and sleep in the car in order for her to earn her doctorate. She also taught and did research at Georgetown.
In her research she discovered that galaxies themselves rotate around a central point. This contradicted the widely accepted Big Bang Theory at the time which suggested that galaxies just expand outwards. She presented this thesis to the American Astronomical Society. She was somewhat criticized for her theories by the scientific community, but she still persisted in her research. She also established the theory of dark matter within galaxies because she realized that there were unknown forces acting upon these galaxies.
In 1965 she got a job with the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (of the Carnegie Institution of Washington), and she has worked in the Carnegie Institution in D.C. ever since. There she teamed up with Kent Ford, who had developed a very sensitive spectrometer. With this spectrometer, Ford and Rubin measured the Doppler shifts across the disks of galaxies. This allowed them to calculate the orbital speeds of some of the stars in the different regions of the galaxies. This led to the discovery of dark mass.
Vera Rubin has four children, and several grandchildren. She wrote a children’s book called “My Grandmother Is an Astronomer” and still does research.