One of the most important astronomers in modern times is celebrated by Google in their January 27 doodle. New Zealand scientist Beatrice Tinsley is credited with greatly improving our understanding of the evolution of galaxies. Facing numerous struggles throughout her professional career and personal life, Tinsley was eventually forced to choose between her research and her family. Tragically, she succumbed to cancer at the age of 40. She’s being honored by Google on what would have been her 75th birthday.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. In 1974, She Was Forced to Make a Real Life ‘Sophie’s Choice’ in Deciding Between Her Family & Her Career
During her time studying at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, Tinsley met and married physicist Brian Tinsley. These nuptials prevented her from taking a job at the college because he was already employed there. When she received a scholarship at the University of Texas at Austin, he moved with her and the couple eventually adopted two children. Tinsley struggled with balancing family life and her professional career. Her research was restricted to whenever her children were asleep. Eventually, unable to cope without devoting herself to her calling, she left her family in Texas and took a professor job at Yale University in 1974. Her husband was awarded full custody, though she maintained visits and sent money. Her profile at Ancestry.com says she turned down an offer from Cambridge University because she didn’t want to be too far from her children.
2. She Was Treated for Cancer at Yale & Is Buried in the School’s Graveyard
In 1981, while working at Yale, Tinsley contracted cancer and died that same year. She was cremated with her ashes buried in the college. She completed her last notable work, an article that was published by the Astrophysical Journal, 10 days before her death. Toward the end of her life, she had become paralyzed by an aggressive brain tumor, according to her entry at Encyclopedia.com. A separate online profile details Tinsley’s belief that the trauma she felt in leaving her children triggered her cancer.
3. She Was a Founding Member of New Zealand’s National Youth Orchestra
Her prodigious talent was clear from a young age. Tinsley was a founding member of New Zealand’s National Youth Choir. She was born in Chester in England in 1941, but her family moved to the southern hemisphere shortly after World War II. Music was always a release for Tinsley. She never wanted to bore her friends and family with her work and instead would talk up her violin playing. During times of depression, she was known to play the instrument alone.
4. She Has a Mountain Named After Her in Her Homeland
In December 2010 Tinsley was celebrated by her homeland when a mountain in Fiordland’s Kepler Mountains, which are named after fellow astronomer Johannes Kepler, was named Mount Tinsley. That’s just one of the honors posthumously afforded to her. Since 1986, the American Astronomical Society has awarded the Beatrice Tinsley Prize, which “recognizes an outstanding research contribution to astronomy or astrophysics, of an exceptionally creative or innovative character.” The astronomy degree program at the University of Canterbury, her alma-mater, is conducted inside the Beatrice Tinsley Institute.
5. Despite Tinsley’s Trailblazing, the American Association of University Women Says Astronomy Is Still ‘Male Dominated’
In a feature on Tinsley at the website for the American Association of University Women, the field of astronomy is still described as male dominated. During her time at the University of Texas, around 2 percent of the faculty were female; in 2010, that number had risen to 19 percent, up from 14 percent in 2003.