Henrietta Swan Leavitt

Henrietta Swan Leavitt, born on July 4, 1868 in Lancaster, Massachussetts, is best known for her contributions to the field of astronomy. Leavitt was educated at Oberlin College in Ohio as well as at Radcliffe College, Harvard University’s “sister college”. Shortly after her graduation from Radcliffe, she fell ill, losing her hearing. Despite this, she was hired to work as a computer for Dr. Edward Charles Pickering at Harvard, where she was credited with the period-luminosity relationship of Cepheid Stars. Additionally, her advances made possible calculating the distance between the Earth and faraway galaxies. Her work, after her death in 1921 in Cambridge, MA, was used by Erwin Hubble to prove that the universe is expanding.

Unfortunately, Leavitt received little attention during her lifetime. As she was not a professor, she did not publish much of her work, instead allowing her boss, Dr. Pickering, to publish her data. Leavitt was considered for nomination for the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1926. However, the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously, so she could not have attained it at that time. Yet, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, as well as the other women working for Dr. Pickering, is today upheld as a pioneer of modern astronomy.



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