Meet Vera Rubin

Writing a novel requires an author to make many decisions. Where a scene is set might seem like an easy one, but can actually be difficult and require a good deal of research. I once spent two hours trying to find the right location for an amateur astronomer’s perfect home-based observatory. The mountains of New Mexico near Las Vegas were my choice. Las Vegas, NM, not NV. I didn’t know there was another Las Vegas. It wasn’t an earth-shattering discovery, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Even character names can require research. Let’s say you’ve set your murder mystery in a quaint up-state New York village. It wouldn’t do to have your serial killer share a name with the village’s mayor. I researched Korean names to make up a name for a sinister corporation. Did you know Young, also Yeong, means brave, and Jang Young Sil was a 15th century scientist and inventor? Well now you do.

Scientific and technical subjects require a good deal of research for me. I don’t want my novels to reveal how ignorant I am. While researching Disturbance: The Vetting, I met a very fascinating woman, Vera Rubin.

vrubinVera was born in Philadelphia at Temple University Hospital in 1928. She was the second daughter of immigrant parents. Her father immigrated as a young boy from Lithuania and became an electrical engineer. Her family moved to Washington, D.C. when she was ten. By eleven, she was fascinated with stars. She watched them from her bedroom window intrigued by how they rotated during the night. She learned to recognize meteors and could draw maps of their paths; by the time she was in middle school, she’d built her own telescope. She didn’t care about the constellation names; it was their movements that captured her attention.

In high school, she got a dose of the macho nature of science. Her physics teacher, Mr. Himes, barely recognized her existence and rarely talked to her. He certainly didn’t provide a nurturing environment. When she shared her joy at getting a scholarship to Vassar, he said she’d do okay if she stayed away from science.

She didn’t stay away. She declared for astronomy at Vassar and received her degree in three years. She applied to Princeton’s master program in 1948, but received no response, not even a catalog. Women weren’t admitted to Princeton’s astronomy program until 1975. She enrolled at Cornell and completed her masters in 1951, and received her doctorate in 1954 from Georgetown.

During her studies, she made observations of galactic movements and noted they weren’t distributed randomly, which was the accepted belief at the time. Her PhD thesis argued that galaxies clumped together and rotated around unknown centers. Her thesis was controversial and not well received. She, and a talented instrument maker, Kent Ford, made hundreds of observation regarding the motion of the Milky Way. The Rubin-Ford Effect is named after them.

Rubin moved to the less controversial topic of galactic rotation and again up-ended accepted belief. Her work showed that galaxies were rotating much faster than traditional physics predicted. Ultimately, her noted discrepancies led to the concept of dark matter.

Don’t confuse dark matter with the tremendous mass of black holes, they’re not the same. Rubin’s work implies some kind of unknown matter is influencing the orbit of galaxies. We can’t see it; it doesn’t collapse into stars, but we can see its influence. Some calculations indicate dark matter may be ten times more massive than normal matter.

I’m very impressed by the accomplishments of Vera Rubin, particularly given the male dominated environment she’s had to live in. Vera has received numerous prizes and acknowledgements, but not the Nobel. She is still active as far as I know. There is even a grass roots movement to get her a Nobel in 2015 and a Facebook page to like for that purpose. Click here: Grass Roots Movement

An Oral History Transcript Dr. Vera Cooper-Rubin, Also see her Wikipedia article.


David P. Cantrell is an author and member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.


Roland the Chronicler Part 1

Chroniclers Badge“Roland. Have a seat,” said Grover Bostarus, the dean of Chronoanthropology at the University of Greater Terra. “I have a special job for you.”

Special job made me nervous. The last special job almost killed me. “I’m listening.”

“Have you heard about the AmerCan project?”

“No, but I just got back from medical leave.”

“Yes, I’m sorry about that. I had no idea how ferocious the pre-wall Asianese could be, or that they were partial to dog meat. I should have recommended you merge with a horse instead.”

Grover is my boss, and my first instinct was to make him squirm, but the look on his long face told a story of regret and concern. I couldn’t bring myself to tease him, and besides, as a mana, it was my obligation to choose my merge partner.
“It’s okay. I would’ve chosen a dog also. It’s rare that they aren’t domesticated. I have to say, though, I’m glad the arrow pierced our rumps and not our hearts. I wouldn’t have been able to de-merge and get across the portal otherwise.”

Grover ran his long fingers through his short gray hair. His eyes were moist. University deans weren’t supposed to put men in mortal danger. They weren’t generals trading lives for territory, and there hadn’t been a serious conflict among men since the Thaw began, some three thousand years ago. The super-volcano eruption and ensuing ice age changed human nature.

“Thanks for being so understanding. You’re my best Chronicler. I wouldn’t send you on this assignment if you weren’t. Three years ago, we learned that a great culture had arisen on the AmerCan continent prior to the Eruption. Brito-Franco documents indicate the AmerCan territory doubled in size in a short time period. We want to know how it came about.”

“Do you have the “when-where” specs for me?”

“Yes, July 14, 1803 in President Thomas Jefferson’s office.”


Manas die in a stasis chamber if their essence is trapped in past-time. There’s no way to anticipate all risks, but knowledge of a when-where is a big help. That’s why I sat in the libraries’ reference room wearing holo-glasses, watching a brief lecture on the Brito-Franco culture.

“The Brito-Franco culture consisted of two sub-groups that controlled the political scene for five hundred years. Their influence waned during the Electronic Age. They shared many characteristics, such as architecture, agricultural methods and technology. Their languages were distinct, but shared many words. A language infusion course is available if you wish to learn more.

“War between the groups occurred frequently during this period, but when not fighting they were civilized—”

I stopped the playback, satisfied it would serve my needs and hurried to the artifacts museum for weapons research. I wanted no surprises like the first time I saw a bow and arrow. They didn’t look threatening individually, but when combined they were.

* * *

“I’m scheduled for a language infusion tomorrow and will need a night’s sleep for it to be effective, so I’ll be ready the next day.”

“What’s this?” Grover said with a twinkle in his eyes, “A Chronicler needs time to learn something. I thought you could absorb infinite amounts of data in that oversized brain of yours.”

“Infinite is a bit much, and my brain’s no bigger than yours. I’ve just learned to use all of it. But, the infusion process requires three sleep cycles to work. It has nothing to do with my Chronicler training.”

“Are you truly ready to go?” Neetang said smiling. “I noticed you limping a little. I find it mind boggling that an injury to a merge partner can cause so much pain and discomfort. If you’re not ready, I understand.”

“I’m okay. The limp’s a lingering neurological effect and should dissipate soon.” I hoped it was true. It’s what the doctors had said, but they weren’t sure, and I knew it. I’d taken enough time off; it was time I got on the horse.

 David P. Cantrell is an author and member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.