Vera Rubin Wins 2003 ASP Bruce Medal and Other ASP Award Winners

Press Release From: Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Posted: Friday, May 2, 2003

San Francisco, Calif. - The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), one of the world's oldest and largest astronomy organizations, is proud to announce that Vera Rubin of the Carnegie Institution of Washington is the 2003 winner of the Society's prestigious Bruce Medal for lifetime achievement in astronomy. The ASP also announces the winners of its Klumpke-Roberts, Brennan, Trumpler, Muhlmann, Amateur Achievement, and Las Cumbres Amateur Outreach Awards.

The 2003 award recipients are:

Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal: Vera Rubin, Carnegie Institution of Washington. The ASP's highest honor, and one of the highest honors in the astronomical community, the Bruce Medal is presented for a lifetime of outstanding research in astronomy. It is with great pleasure that the ASP bestows this year's Bruce medal on Vera Rubin.

Rubin's observational work in the 1970s showed that a large fraction of the universe consists of dark matter. Earlier observations had hinted at this, but Rubin's work was the first clear observational proof. By measuring the rotational velocities of ionized hydrogen clouds in other galaxies, she and her colleague Kent Ford showed that the rotation of these galaxies could not be explained solely by the gravitational attraction of the gas and luminous matter. Today, the evidence for dark matter is overwhelming, and the search for an explanation is one of the hottest topics under study.

She has also done seminal work on the large-scale streaming of galaxies. From observations of spiral galaxies in many directions, Rubin and her colleagues obtained radial velocities that indicated that the Sun, as part of the Local Group of galaxies, is moving approximately in the direction of the second bend in the constellation Eridanus. Although these first results made many astronomers uncomfortable, today it is clear that luminous matter is distributed in a clumpy manner with complex flow patterns.

Rubin is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the American Astronomical Society's Russell Prize for lifetime achievement. She has been awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the first woman to be awarded this medal since Caroline Herschel in 1828. She was the first woman to be awarded observing time in her own right at Palomar Observatory. Throughout her career, she has played a very active role in encouraging and inspiring women in astronomy.

The Klumpke-Roberts Award: Hubble Heritage Project, Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), Baltimore, Maryland. The Klumpke-Roberts Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy. This year the award goes to the Hubble Heritage Project, led by principal investigator Keith Noll of STScI. The Hubble Heritage Team produces spectacular astronomical images and releases one new image every month. The team produces images from existing Hubble Space Telescope (HST) archived data and from new observations obtained from its small amount of HST observing time. The team selects the HST images placed in the Heritage gallery, but it also welcomes suggestions from visitors to its website, and in the past it has even allowed on-line visitors to vote on future HST targets. Since its debut in 1998, the team has released more than 60 images. You can see the results of this group's efforts at

The Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award: Rodger Thompson (University of Arizona) and the NICMOS Instrument Definition Team. The Muhlmann Award honors scientists who have obtained important research results based upon their development of ground-breaking instruments and techniques. Rodger Thompson and the rest of the NICMOS (the Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer) development team provided the near- infrared camera for the Hubble Space Telescope. NICMOS, which space shuttle astronauts installed in HST in 1997, was the first large-array infrared detector camera in space. After it ran out of coolant in 1999, astronauts installed a new cooler in 2002, renewing the instrument. The NICMOS team revolutionized infrared astronomy by creating an instrument that has produced scientific advances in areas from planet formation to cosmology. The team also created a technology that has greatly contributed to the advancement of ground-based infrared systems. For a listing of all 17 team members, visit ml.

The Thomas J. Brennan Award: Eugene S. Zajac, Shaker Heights High School, Shaker Heights, Ohio. Gene Zajac teaches astronomy at Shaker Heights High School and is the Planetarium Director for the Shaker Heights School District. Zajac has developed high school research programs for seniors who devote the final quarter of their year to a special research project. He has developed audio-visual materials associated with two major projects, a Mobile Observatory and a Mobile Space Station Bus. He has created high school projects featuring ancient observing sites, Galileo's notebooks, telescopes in the classroom, and others, which he shares with other teachers at conferences. In his teaching he frequently uses innovative models, such as a Stonehenge made of Rice Krispies, and Oreo cookies to demonstrate lunar phases.

The Robert J. Trumpler Award: Daniel E. Reichart, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The Trumpler Award is given to a recent Ph.D. recipient whose doctoral research is considered unusually important to astronomy. Daniel Reichart's thesis provided strong evidence for the connection between supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). In 1999, Reichart showed that a GRB that occurred in 1997 coincided with what appeared to be a supernova. The GRB-supernova connection, which has been confirmed by a relatively nearby GRB-supernova seen in April 2003, has led astronomers to the current consensus that most GRBs result from the explosive death of massive stars. Reichart also showed that the variability in GRB light curves can be used as an estimate of the bursts' intrinsic luminosity and therefore give an estimate of their distance. Reichart received his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 2000. He then moved to the California Institute of Technology, where he spent two years as a Hubble Fellow. He is now an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Amateur Achievement Award: Kyle E. Smalley, Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Amateur Achievement Award goes to an amateur astronomer who has made significant observational or technical achievements. This year's winner, Kyle Smalley, has been deeply involved in the study of near-Earth asteroids, mainly by providing timely observations that guaranteed that more than 300 fast- moving and faint objects have firm orbits. As a member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, Smalley spent hundreds of hours taking CCD images, mainly with the society's 0.75-meter reflector at Powell Observatory. Smalley also developed search procedures to recover near-Earth asteroids that had been lost for years after their initial discovery. Smalley remains an amateur astronomer despite recently being hired as a temporary consultant at the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center (MPC). There, at the nexus of asteroid discovery, he advises amateurs and computes orbits.

The Las Cumbres Amateur Outreach Award: Mario Motta, Lynnfield, Massachusetts. This award honors outstanding outreach by an amateur astronomer to children and the public. For many years, cardiologist Mario Motta has made outstanding contributions to public education, in schools and other venues. Since his presidency of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston in 1994, Motta has guided that organization in producing widespread public- school star parties. As a participant in the ASP's Project ASTRO, Motta gives bimonthly talks to 5th- and 6th- graders, particularly in his hometown of Lynnfield. His efforts led the Lynnfield Parent-Teacher Association to raise funds for the purchase of an inflatable planetarium, and Motta continues to train teachers to take full advantage of its capability.

Each year, the ASP's Board of Directors asks various individuals and institutions to nominate people for these awards. The ASP awards recognize meritorious work by professional and amateur astronomers, science educators, and those who engage in public outreach. The ASP will present this year's awards at the Society's Annual Meeting banquet at the Woodfin Hotel in Emeryville, California, on Saturday, October 11.

More information about the ASP's 2003 award winners will be available in the July/August 2003 issue of Mercury, the bimonthly magazine of the Society. Publishable photos of the award recipients can be downloaded at More information about the Bruce Medal can be found at

For more information about the ASP's 2003 Annual Meeting, which takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area on October 11-12, visit or call the Meeting Coordinator at 415-337-1100 x109.

The nonprofit Astronomical Society of the Pacific was founded in 1889 in San Francisco and is still headquartered there today. The ASP has since grown into an international society. Its membership is spread over all 50 states and 70 countries and includes professional and amateur astronomers, science educators of all levels, and people in the general public. The ASP publishes Mercury for its members, a technical journal for professional astronomers called Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and an on-line teachers' newsletter. The ASP also coordinates Project ASTRO, a national astronomy education program. The Society produces a catalog and website of extensive astronomy-related products for educators and the public.

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