Carol Wood on Vera Rubin

“She proved the existence of Dark Matter!”

Astronomer VERA RUBIN built her first telescope at 14… and went on later in life to prove the existence of Dark Matter in the universe, a discovery described by the New York Times as “ushering in a Copernican-scale change”. This dedicated mother of four was honored throughout her career for her ground-breaking achievements, including the prestigious National Medal of Science Award. Rubin spent her life advocating for women in science and was known for her mentorship. Mathematician CAROL WOOD tells us the story of her friend and mentor, the brilliant Vera Rubin, the first woman to have a large observatory named after her: the National Science Foundation Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile.

Our storytellers share these astonishing women with us conversationally and unscripted; we fact-check afterwards and note any major discrepancies for accuracy.


Carol Wood

Carol S. Wood works in model theory and its connections to algebra and combinatorics. She was born in Pennington Gap, Virginia, and is proud to be a hillbilly. She attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg Virginia (now Randolph College), graduating summa cum laude with honors in mathematics. She received a PhD in mathematics at Yale in 1971 under the supervision of Abraham Robinson. Her academic career has been based entirely at Wesleyan University, where she advised four PhD students and served in various leadership positions. She is now retired, as the Edward Burr van Vleck Professor of Mathematics Emerita.

For over 25 years she has been engaged in the mathematics community in a variety of roles, including president of the Association for Women in Mathematics, program officer in the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the National Science Foundation, deputy director at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, Board member of Mathematical Sciences Publishers and Trustee of the American Mathematical Society. She is an Inaugural Fellow of both the AMS and AWM. Together with other former students and colleagues of her undergraduate advisor, Carol created AWM’s M. Gweneth Humphreys Award to recognize outstanding mentoring of undergraduate women in mathematics.

Featured Woman

Vera Rubin

At 14-years-old, Vera Rubin built her first telescope out of a cardboard tube. She loved the stars and made it her life’s passion. She applied to Princeton for graduate school but was denied because she was female; later in life, however, she was welcomed there to teach Astro-Physics — after she had proven that Dark Matter makes up 85% of the universe. Vera Rubin was the first woman allowed into Palomar Observatory, (she had to create her own bathroom), the Vatican Astronomy Project, and is the first woman to have a large observatory named after her: the National Science Foundation Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. She won the Bruce Medal, the Gold Medal of Royal Astronomical Society, and the National Medal of Science. A mentor and fierce advocate for women in science, Vera Rubin encouraged girls to reach for the stars.