Della Pietra Lecture Series Presents Dava Sobel

The Della Pietra Lecture Series is pleased to present Dava Sobel 

Monday, May 8, 5:00pm ET, Della Pietra Family Auditorium, SCGP Room 103
Reception at 4:15pm

Title: The Glass Universe and “the glass ceiling”

Abstract: Half a million astronomical images on glass photographic plates, taken over the span of a century, constitute a “glass universe” at the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The observatory’s far-sighted director, Edward Pickering, conceived the project in the 1870s, when astrophotography was in its infancy. Funding for the ambitious mission came from two New York heiresses with abiding interests in astronomy, Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce. As the collection of glass plates grew to include stellar spectra and star fields captured by telescopes in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, unusual employment opportunities opened for “women’s work” at the observatory. At first the typical female job title was computer or assistant, but in time several women came to be regarded as full-fledged astronomers and made important contributions to the field: Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Henrietta Leavitt, and Annie Jump Cannon.

Watch the recorded video here:























Dava Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter, is the author of Longitude (Walker 1995 and 2005, Penguin 1996), Galileo’s Daughter (Walker 1999 and 2011, Penguin 2000), The Planets (Viking 2005, Penguin 2006), A More Perfect Heaven (Walker / Bloomsbury 2011 and 2012), And the Sun Stood Still (Bloomsbury, 2016) and The Glass Universe (Viking, 2016). She has also co-authored six books, including Is Anyone Out There? with astronomer Frank Drake.

A longtime science contributor to Harvard Magazine, Audubon, Discover, Life, Omni, and The New Yorker, she wrote about leap seconds and the transit of Venus 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.” Also in 2001, the Boston Museum of Science gave her its prestigious Bradford Washburn Award for her “outstanding contribution toward public understanding of science, appreciation of its fascination, and the vital roles it plays in all our lives.” In October 2004, in London, Ms. Sobel accepted the Harrison Medal from the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, in recognition of her contribution to increasing awareness of the science of horology by the general public, through her writing and lecturing. In 2008 the Astronomical Society of the Pacific honored her with its Klumpke-Roberts Award for “increasing the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy.” Her 2014 Cultural Award from the Eduard Rhein Foundation in Germany commends her “for using her profound scientific knowledge and literary talent to combine facts with fiction by merging scientific adventures and human stories in order to give the history of science a human face.”