QUEEN OF THE COSMOS
A world leader in modern cosmology and one of the most creative and significant theoreticians in modern astronomy. Her scientific work has been described by biographer Christine Cole Catley in The Book of New Zealand Women: Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa as "opening doors to the future study of the evolutions of stars, galaxies and even the Universe itself." Beatrice Tinsley has profoundly affected what scientists know about the origin and size of the universe.
Tinsley's research on how galaxies change and evolve over time changed the
standard method for determining distances to far galaxies which, in turn,
was significant in determining the size of the universe and its rate of
expansion. At the time it was assumed that galaxies of the same type -
spiral, elliptical or lenticular - would be a similar size,shape and
luminosity. By comparing the size and luminosity of distant galaxies to
nearby galaxies whose distance was already known, it was thought that an
accurate distance could be obtained.
"Extraordinary and Profound"
Beatrice Hill was born in 1941 in Chester, northwest England, the second daughter of an Anglican minister father and writer mother. After the war the family moved to New Zealand, first to Christchurch and then settled in New Plymouth, where Beatrice's father was mayor for three years. At New Plymouth Girl's High School, she was a brilliant student in a number of fields, excelling in mathematics, languages, writing and music (she played violin for the National Youth Orchestra for two years). However at the age of 14 she decided that she wanted to be an astrophysicist.
She graduated from New Plymouth Girls' High School as Dux at 16, won a junior scholarship and went to Canterbury University to study mathematics, chemistry and physics. She completed a Master of Science with First Class Honours in Physics in 1961, marrying fellow physics student Brian Tinsley in the same year. After graduating, Brian was offered a job at the South West Centre for Advanced Studies, in Dallas, Texas and the couple moved there.
The main strands of her research were into the evolution of galaxies and the stars
within them, culminating in the idea that galaxies undergo significant changes over a
relatively short time span (short, that is, compared to the age of the universe). She
pioneered models of galactic evolution "more realistic than other models at the time,
which combined a detailed understanding of stellar evolution with knowledge of the motions
of stars and nuclear physics", as described by a website biography (set up by San
Francisco State University). Her models formed the basis of the first pictures of what
"protogalaxies" (galaxies in their infancy) might look like.
|Origin of the Universe
Her work on how the evolution of galaxies affects the origin and size of the universe had a profound effect on scientific knowledge. She also contributed to research to find out whether the universe is an open or closed system (that is, whether it has boundaries at the edges or whether it is able to keep expanding ad infinitum).
In 1974, her achievements led to her being awarded the Annie J Cannon Prize from the American Astronomical Society and the American Association of University Women, for her contributions to astronomy.
Yet professional recognition was still unforthcoming in Texas. As Catley quotes,
stifled and intellectually unfulfilled, Tinsley wrote to her father: "The University
of Texas in Dallas has kept me at the nearest possible level to nothing." In spite of
being asked to design an astronomy department for the University of Texas, and in spite of
her startling scientific achievements, she was still not treated with professional respect
by the university: her application for the job as head of the university's astronomy
department was not even answered.
She had reached a point in her life where she had to choose between staying in Texas with her family and saying goodbye to her scientific career, or taking the hard and less socially accepted road towards fulfilling her scientific promise. Knowing that she would never be taken seriously in Texas, she sought a divorce from her husband in 1974 and left Texas, taking a one year fellowship at the Lick Observatory, at the Santa Cruz campus of the University of California.
The following year she started to work as an assistant professor at Yale University and in 1978 became professor of astronomy at the university. It was in the same year that she discovered she had developed a malignant form of cancer, melanoma. She continued to research and publish papers, until shortly before her death, on 23rd March 1981.
Over a relatively short academic career of 14 years, Professor Tinsley authored or
co-authored around 100 scientific papers, mostly concerned with the evolution of galaxies.
In addition she was a valuable mentor to younger women scientists in America and New
Zealand, particularly during her tenure as professor at Yale. She was gifted and dedicated
as a teacher and mentor, as well as a scientist, qualities that were recognised during her
tenure at Yale, before her untimely death.
In 1986, as a tribute to her, the American Astronomical Society established the Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize for outstanding creative contributions to astronomy or astrophysics. It was the only major award created by an American scientific society honouring a woman scientist. Her alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, also created the Beatrice M Tinsley Visiting Professorship in astronomy in her honour.
|In the meantime, to learn more about
Beatrice Tinsley, you can look at:
Catley, C.C. (1985) "Beatrice Hill Tinsley", Springboard for Women. Picton, Cape Catley Ltd.
Catley, C.C. (1991) "Beatrice Tinsley" in Macdonald, C. Penfold, M & Williams, B. eds.The Book of Women in New Zealand: Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa. Wellington, Bridget Williams Books.
Catley, C.C. (1993) "Beatrice Tinsley", New Zealand Official Yearbook. Wellington, Department of Statistics.
Catley, C.C. (2006) Bright Star: Beatrice Hill Tinsley, Astronomer. Auckland, Cape Catley Ltd.
Hill, E. (1986) My daughter, Beatrice Tinsley. New York.
And see the website for New Zealand's Carter Observatory, at:
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