Women in STEM received late recognition in 2020

2020 has been a great year to recognize the achievements of women in science and engineering. Here are some of the long-awaited nods for women who have made their mark in the history of science.

Vera C. Rubin Observatory

The National Science Foundation began the year by naming a major ground-based observatory to come after astronomer Vera Rubin. The telescope, which is under construction, was previously called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).

At an event in January announcing the name, physicist Kathy Turner, a program manager in the Department of Energy’s office of high energy physics, told reporters that reading as a student of Rubin’s work gave him learned that “yes, science is an area that women have the right to participate and the right to pursue, and we don’t have to accept the answer.

Rubin discovered the first evidence of dark matter in the 1970s, when she noticed that the galaxies she was observing all seemed to spin as if they had a lot more mass than astronomers could see. Decades later, one of the main research goals of the Rubin Observatory will be to collect more data to help physicists understand how dark matter fits into the structure of the universe. This work, along with other observations at the new facility in Chile, is expected to begin in November 2021.

Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope

NASA announced in May that the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope will be named in honor of the agency’s first chief astronomer, who was instrumental in making Hubble happen: Nancy Grace Roman.

“It was through the leadership and vision of Nancy Grace Roman that NASA became a pioneer in astrophysics and launched Hubble, the world’s most powerful and productive space telescope,” said the administrator from NASA Jim Bridenstine in a press release.

Prior to the announcement, the Roman Space Telescope was officially known as the Wide Field Infrared Surveying Telescope, or WFIRST. NASA plans to launch it by 2025.

NASA Mary W. Jackson Headquarters

In June, NASA renamed its headquarters in Washington, DC in honor of mathematician and engineer Mary Jackson, whose 27 years of work at NASA helped the agency design better, safer, and faster planes and to pave the way for manned space flights.

“NASA facilities across the country are named after people who have dedicated their lives to pushing the boundaries of the aerospace industry,” Bridenstine said in a press release. “Mary W. Jackson was one of a group of very important women who helped NASA successfully bring American astronauts into space.”

Jackson joined NASA in 1951, when the agency was still called NACA and the workplace was strictly separated by race and gender. Disregarding these barriers, Jackson became the agency’s first black female engineer, wrote several research reports, and performed experiments in NASA’s supersonic wind tunnel.