Beatrice Tinsley

Beatrice Tinsley, August 1976
Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives,
John Irwin Slide Collection

Low res image used with permission

Occupation: Professor of Astronomy

Year born: 1941

Research Areas: Galaxies' Evolution, Cosmology

 

"I never mind spending time [with students] if they really want to learn astronomy or exchange ideas."

Source: The letters of Beatrice Hill Tinsley: 1979-1980

 

Early Life

Beatrice was born in Chester, England, UK. Her family moved to New Zealand after World War II where Beatrice won a scholarship to study at Canterbury University. She graduated with a Master of Science degree in Physics in 1961. After University, Beatrice’s husband Brian started a job in Dallas, Texas. Beatrice moved to Dallas with him but was not allowed to work at the same university. Instead, she took a part-time teaching job at the University of Texas in Austin, about 200 miles away. In 1964 Beatrice started a PhD and completed it in 1966. She took a third of the time it takes most people to do a PhD in the USA.

Career Highlights

Beatrice was the world-leading expert on how galaxies change over time. In particular, she studied how different groups of stars age and how that might affect what a galaxy looked like.

Before Beatrice carried out her research, astronomers thought that galaxies of the same type would be a similar size, shape and brightness. Scientists used this information to work out the distance to galaxies. Beatrice showed astronomers needed other information as well. They needed to know how much of each chemical element was in the galaxy, the mass of the galaxy and the rate of star-birth. Beatrice’s work supported the idea that the Universe would expand forever and contradicted the idea of a “big crunch”. 

Beatrice’s research was so important that she received the Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy for her work on galaxy evolution. Sadly, the universities in Texas would not take her seriously despite her academic achievements. Beatrice moved to Yale in 1974 and became Professor of Astronomy there in 1978. Beatrice worked at Yale until her death from cancer in 1981. In that short time, she wrote over 100 scientific papers.

Legacy

The Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize, for outstanding creative contributions to astronomy or astrophysics, is the only major award created by an American scientific society which honours a woman scientist. The asteroid 3087 Beatrice Tinsley is named after her.

Other Interests

Beatrice loved music and played in orchestras. She was not afraid to speak her mind and questioned everything.