University of Rochester

Astronomer Judith Pipher to be Inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame

October 4, 2007

Judith Pipher, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, will be inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame on Oct. 6 for her excellence as a teacher of young women and men, and for the exceptional advances she's made in the field of infrared astronomy.

Pipher is the first astronomer into be inducted to the Hall since Maria Mitchell, who was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as the first-ever professional female astronomer, in 1848.

"Judy Pipher's contributions as a scientist, as a leader, and as a person are remarkable in every way," says Nicholas P. Bigelow, the Lee A. DuBridge Professor of Physics at Rochester, and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. "Throughout her career, she has made major contributions to promoting women in science both as a role model and as a teacher and research advisor. Her down-to-earth style and her intellectual integrity set a standard of excellence for our department that has been vital to our success and to the success of our students. We are all very proud to have Judy as our colleague and we are delighted to see her honored by this distinction."

"Judy is a force of nature," says William Forrest, professor of astronomy. "She recognizes what needs to be done, and gets it done. In any such enterprise, one must inspire the whole team to perform well, and this is one of Judy's strengths. She also has exceptional scientific judgment, and the excellent infrared detector arrays she helped develop for NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope are a testament to that judgment."

"Because of her enormous impact on our research and working environment, Judy has become a model of how to lead a research group," says Alice Quillen, associate professor of astronomy. "She has been extremely supportive of my work and my role in the research group. I've been very lucky as Judy is constantly encouraging and supportive and without doubt a strong positive influence in my career as an astronomer."

A 2002 recipient of the University's Susan B. Anthony Lifetime Achievement Award, Pipher has been a member of the University of Rochester faculty since 1971, just after earning her doctorate from Cornell University in the newly emerging field of infrared astronomy.

"When I entered the field 40 years ago, roughly 12 percent of the scientists were women, and the percentage is about the same now," says Pipher. "The good news, though, is that we are starting to see a larger percentage of women in our undergraduate classes. But we have to translate this to the next level´┐Żwomen getting doctorates in astronomy, too."

Pipher was one of the first U.S. astronomers to turn an infrared array toward the skies. In 1983, Pipher and colleagues mounted a prototype infrared detector onto the telescope in a small campus observatory, taking the first-ever telescopic infrared pictures of the moon. She has since been involved in the development of near-infrared detector arrays, serving as one of the main forces moving the field from rudimentary single-pixel devices to today's virtually flawless multi-megapixel arrays. Pipher's work in infrared technology has had a profound influence on all subsequent work in astronomy, the study of our astronomical origins, and the study of the structure and evolution of the universe.

In 2003, NASA launched the Spitzer Space Telescope, which is equipped with infrared detectors Pipher helped design. With the telescope now in orbit, Pipher uses the instrument to investigate, among other things, clusters of forming stars and brown dwarfs, massive, planet-like objects too small to become stars, and hence too cool and dark to be seen by ground-based telescopes. Likewise, interstellar dust obscures much of the visible spectrum of light, necessitating infrared instruments in space to peer through to the object beyond.

Pipher has chaired or served on a large number of the national committees that determine the course of funding in astrophysics for NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Eight other women were inducted with Pipher as the newest members of the Hall of Fame, including Eleanor Baum, Swanee Hunt, Winona Duke, and posthumously, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Catherine Filene Shouse, Henrietta Szold, Martha Coffin Wright and Julia Child.

The National Women's Hall of Fame is a national membership organization recognizing and celebrating the achievements of individual American women. The Hall was founded in Seneca Falls, N.Y., the site of the first Women's Rights Convention in 1848. Two hundred and seventeen women have been inducted since the Hall's founding in 1969.