University of Rochester

Judith Pipher Named to National Women‘s Hall of Fame

STAR SCIENCE: A noted astronomer, Pipher will be inducted into the National Women‘s Hall of Fame this fall. Photo credit: Trippy Photography.

Judith Pipher, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy, will be inducted into the National Women‘s Hall of Fame in recognition of her excellence as a teacher of young women and men, and for the exceptional advances she‘s made in the field of infrared astronomy. The induction ceremony will take place this October.

Pipher has been a member of the University faculty since 1971, just after earning her doctorate from Cornell University in the newly emerging field of infrared astronomy. She joins eight other women as the newest members of the Seneca Falls, New York, based national organization that recognizes and celebrates the achievements of individual American women.

Pipher was one of the first U.S. astronomers to turn an infrared array toward the skies. In 1983, she and colleagues mounted a prototype infrared detector onto a telescope in a small River Campus observatory, taking the first-ever telescopic infrared pictures of the moon.

She has since led 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. And because interstellar dust obscures much of the visible spectrum of light, infrared instruments in space make it possible to peer through to the object beyond the dust.