Noted science author Dava Sobel (Longitude, Galileo's Daughter and The Glass Universe) will be at Stevens to discuss her recent book The Glass Universe: How the ladies of the Harvard Observatory took the measure of the stars. In the 1870s, before women had the right to vote or a firm standing in the workplace, a lucky few found employment at the Harvard College Observatory. The first female assistants were born to the work—as the wives, daughters, and sisters of the resident astronomers. Over time, other women joined the group, thanks to the director’s farsighted hiring practices and the introduction of photography to astronomy. Instead of observing through the telescope by night, the women could analyze the stars in daylight on glass photographic plates. Harvard's female workforce grew accordingly, and its individual members won national and international acclaim for their discoveries. The most famous among them—Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Leavitt, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin—are the heroines of this story. The work was not only performed by women, but also funded by female philanthropists such as Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce. The half-million glass plates captured through a century’s worth of observing still occupy their own building at what is today the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Dava Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter, is the author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter and The Glass Universe. A long-time science contributor to Harvard Magazine, Audubon, Discover, Life, Omni, and The New Yorker, she currently writes for the on-line Aeon. Ms. Sobel received the 2001 Individual Public Service Award from the National Science Board "for fostering awareness of science and technology among broad segments of the general public." Longitude went through twenty-nine hardcover printings, and was translated into two dozen foreign languages, becoming a national and international bestseller. It was adapted for the screen as a four-hour made-for-TV movie starring Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon. Sobel's Galileo's Daughter is based on 124 surviving letters to Galileo from his eldest child. Galileo's Daughter and was a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in biography. A two-hour "NOVA" documentary based on Galileo's Daughter, called "Galileo's Battle for the Heavens," first aired on public television in October 2002, and won an Emmy in the category of historical programming.