Virginia Trimble

Gemant Award

For taking the broader view of how physics and astronomy is accomplished, creatively engaging physical scientists and the public throughout her lifetime, and commitment to establishing science within the social perspective

About the Winner

Virginia Trimble is a native Californian and graduate of Hollywood High School, UCLA, the California Institute of Technology with a doctorate in astronomy in 1968, an honorary master’s degree from Cambridge (U.K.) and a doctor honoris causa from the University of Valencia (Spain). Her early research included measuring the masses of white dwarf stars from their Einstein, relativistic redshifts, determining the distance and energetics of the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, calculating the details of evolution of stars with unusual chemical compositions, and exploring the statistics of orbits of close binary pairs of stars. Later, she transitioned into looking at the productivity and impact of large telescopes, gauging the influence of institutional backgrounds on astronomical success, and attempting to estimate the success rates of the astronomical decadal surveys of priorities for the field. Trimble has reached the age where many of the discoveries she remembers as "current events” (quasars, pulsars, the microwave background radiation) count as history and has written a good deal in that territory, especially history of dark matter. Sixteen years of reading all the papers in 23 journals and summarizing them annually eventually collapsed under increasing numbers and decreasing availability of paper copies. She has been part of the governance structures of the American Physical Society, the American Astronomical Society, the International Astronomical Union, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, and a few others. She secretly enjoys committee meetings, has a publication list exceeding 900 items, and is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine (the oldest member of the department still on full active duty), after 28 years of sharing appointments between UCI and the University of Maryland with her husband, Joseph Weber, designer and builder of the first detectors for gravitational waves. Trimble's recent teaching includes the physics of music and the impact of World War I on the sciences, the intended topic of her Andrew Gemant lecture in October 2019.

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