Star the twelfth

I’m creating a virtual star chart, to record my progress in Dry July. The star for making it through Monday 12 July without touching the demon drink is Beatrice Hill Tinsley 1941 – 1981: an extraordinary astronomer.

(Description: Young woman, high brow, dark hair tied back, large eyes, somewhat apprehensive small smile, in front of a blackboard full of equations.)

Beatrice Hill Tinsley was born in England, but she grew up in New Zealand, in my home town, New Plymouth. She went to New Plymouth Girls High School. I could find no mention of her on the school website, but I have a half-formed vague memory of having heard that one of the girls who had gone to NPGHS was a notable scientist. If anyone reading went to NPGHS, perhaps you could let know if she is remembered at the school.

She did her first degree at the University of Canterbury, and was a member of the Socratic Society, along with the writer of stoatspring, Harvey McQueen. She was, apparently, brilliant. She married young, and headed off to Dallas in the States with her physicist husband, where she wrote an extraordinary doctoral thesis about the chemical evolution of galaxies. But she could not get a job.

…because her spouse worked at the University she faced certain problems. In the University’s eyes, she was Brian’s wife before she was Professor Beatrice Tinsley.”The Univ. of Texas in Dallas at present calls me a visiting scientist and provides an account to pay for my computing, publishing etc costs. But they have now formally decided the conditions under which they will pay a salary to the spouse of a faculty member. It means that to get the part-time research job I want, I have to obtain my own funds independently of any member of the institution. Elaborate way of avoiding favoritism! ” As a result of these policies, Tinsley had to do twice as much work for a less prestigious job. Despite her work in astronomy and because her husband already had a job, the University ignored her only providing her with a position if she came up with the funds.

Source: Beatrice Hill Tinsley

And things began to fray in her personal life too. She left her husband and their two children, and took a job 2000 miles away in California. Eventually, she became Professor of Astronomy at Yale. Her work was outstanding.

Beatrice found in Yale the welcoming atmosphere she had long dreamed of. Here her production of scientific papers, some in collaboration with Richard Larson, increased to an extraordinary extent. Her projects continued to expand the study of galactic evolution and its relationship with cosmology, everything to explain its past, present and future.

As Larson said, “Most scientists are interested only in small, defined areas; Beatrice put it altogether.”

Source: In Search of Beatrice Hill Tinsley

But she died young, at just 40, from melanoma. What a loss.

She is remembered in a biography, Bright Star, and a play.

I had never heard of her until yesterday, when David Slack suggested that I could write about her in my star chart. He sent me a link to a Listener article about her: A Star is Reborn, by Denis Welch.

Thank you, David. For those of you who don’t know David Slack, he used to write Island Life, at Public Address, but just over a month ago, decided that it was time to take a break, which is a Great Shame for those of us who loved his work. However he is tweeting: @DavidSlack.

Denis Welch blogs too: Opposable Thumb.


3 comments on “Star the twelfth

  1. Raymond A Francis says:

    Good choice for a star
    Beatrice Hill Tinsley
    Not sure how I learnt about her as she is not very well known in NZ
    Although she was at NPGH some time before my wife I don’t think that made me aware of her
    If she had lived longer who knows where her mind might have lead us all

    I have not read her autobiography so thanks for that link

  2. Tamara says:

    Wow, that is a great “star”, thanks for spreading the word about her.

  3. Kiwi Lindsay says:

    Almost ½ way through the month – keep up the good work!

    Beatice Tinsley another star whose light was extinguished way too early. If your search on the Radio NZ website, there’s a number of links to articles on her (it’s where I first heard about her; just another benefit of being back in NZ!)

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