Tag Archives: Georgetown

Jew of the Week: Vera Rubin

Vera Rubin at the Lowell Observatory (Credit: Carnegie Institution)

Vera Rubin at the Lowell Observatory (Credit: Carnegie Institution)

Vera Cooper (1928-2016) was born in Philadelphia. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe (who changed their last name from Kobchefski to Cooper). From the young age of just 10, Cooper was interested in astronomy, and was later the only woman studying the subject in her college. She intended to continue graduate studies at Princeton but was forbidden because of her gender. Cooper went to Cornell University instead and studied astrophysics and quantum physics. There she also met her husband, Robert Rubin, who was pursuing graduate studies in chemistry. The two had four children, all of whom became Ph.D scientists and mathematicians. Rubin completed her Master’s in 1951 and went to Georgetown University for her doctorate. Around this time, she discovered that whole galaxies are rotating around their centres – an idea so revolutionary that it was initially rejected. Her 1954 Ph.D thesis was similarly revolutionary, showing that galaxies must be clumped in clusters. No one paid attention to this work for another two decades, when it was confirmed to be true. In 1965, Rubin was the first woman allowed to use Caltech’s famous Palomar Observatory. She then became a Senior Fellow at Washington’s Carnegie Institution, where her research was focused on “galactic and extragalactic dynamics”, among other things. Rubin made critical calculations with regards to galactic rotation rates, and together with her friend Robert Ford, discovered what is now known as the Rubin-Ford effect. In her studies, she found that galaxies are spinning so fast that they should be flying apart. They do not fly apart because gravity keeps them together. But, there is not enough visible matter in galaxies to generate so much gravity! This led Rubin to confirm the existence of invisible dark matter. This was perhaps her biggest breakthrough, and completely transformed astrophysics. For her tremendous achievements, Rubin has won multiple awards, including the National Medal of Science and the Royal Astronomical Society’s prestigious Gold Medal. There is also an asteroid named after her. Sadly, Rubin passed away earlier this week. Despite being 88 years old, Rubin continued her scientific research (focusing on the motion of distant stars) until the last days of her life. She was a pioneer for women in science, and worked tirelessly to get more women elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Rubin was proud of her Jewish heritage, and often spoke of the beauty and value of science and religion when studied together. In addition to half a dozen important scientific publications, Rubin wrote a book, and was featured in two documentaries. She was once described as an American “national treasure”.

Words of the Week

The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.
– Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

Jew of the Week: Janet Rosenberg Jagan

President of Guyana

Janet Rosenberg Jagan

Janet Rosenberg Jagan

Janet Rosenberg (1920-2009) was born in Chicago, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Romania and Hungary. As a young nursing student she met a Guyanese dentist, Cheddi Jagan. The two got married less than a year later, and moved to Guyana, where Rosenberg worked as a nurse in her husband’s dental clinic. Meanwhile, the couple joined the British Guianese Labor Union and were very active in the political scene. Rosenberg founded Guyana’s Women’s Political and Economic Organization, and its Political Affairs Committee. Shortly after, she and her husband co-founded the Marxist-Leninist People’s Progressive Party (PPP), with Janet serving as its General Secretary. Soon, she was elected to the City Council of Guyana’s capital, Georgetown. From there, she moved up to the House of Assembly, and was appointed Deputy Speaker. However, for vocally opposing British colonial rule over Guyana, the Jagans were both jailed for 5 months, then kept under house arrest for another 2 years. After finally being freed, Rosenberg won back her seat in the Assembly and was appointed Minister of Labour, Health and Housing. In 1973, she was elected to the national parliament, and was re-elected three more times, making her the longest serving parliamentarian in the country’s history. In 1992, her husband became Guyana’s president, and after he passed away in 1997, Janet became the country’s prime minister and vice president. She won the national elections later that year and became president herself, making her just the third woman (and coincidentally, the third Jew) to head a nation in the Western Hemisphere. At age 79, the popular Rosenberg resigned her post due to health problems. She continued to serve in the government, and was still on the PPP’s Central Committee until shortly before her passing, at age 88. Aside from government, Rosenberg worked hard to expand the Guyanese literary world, and to make books available for Guyana’s children. She wrote several of her own books, and was the editor of the PPP’s newspaper for over 20 years. Rosenberg received Guyana’s highest honour, the Order of Excellence, along with a UNESCO award for her efforts on behalf of women’s rights.

Words of the Week

Greater is hospitality to wayfarers than receiving the Divine Presence.
– Talmud, Shevuot 35b