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Human Computers in Astronomy: Women Astronomers at Mount Wilson Observatory during the Early Twentieth Century (Prof. Eun-Joo Ahn)
October 12, 2022 @ 4:15 pm - 5:30 pm
Title: Human Computers in Astronomy: Women Astronomers at Mount Wilson Observatory during the Early Twentieth Century
Speaker: Eun-Joo Ahn, Department of History, UC Santa Barbara
Abstract: Mount Wilson Observatory was founded by astrophysicist George Ellery Hale in 1904 with funding from the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Since then, it has become one of the most prominent astronomical observatories during the first half of the twentieth century, whose astronomers contributed to understanding the characteristics of the sun and the structure of our universe. When considering astronomers and science at MWO in the early years, we will likely think of Hale and his male colleagues who worked to build the large telescopes and the astronomical research they carried out. We tend to overlook the women astronomers at MWO and the contribution they made while we pay attention to the more prominent men astronomers. It is easy to lose sight of these women scientists as they left few written records, their workspaces have been remodeled, and little if any of the instruments they used to carry out the measurements remain today. As human computers, their tasks were mostly restricted to measuring positions or spectral lines of photographic plates, and they did not have the same opportunity to expand their work to new challenges and roles. By reconstructing their contribution to the scientific work at MWO, we can better understand how astronomers at MWO carried out the scientific discoveries and achievements at MWO that made this place prominent. In this talk, I narrate what it was like to be a woman scientist at MWO during its first decade.
Eun-Joo Ahn is a historian of science researching how astronomers in Southern California interacted with their natural and socio-economic environment during the early twentieth century. She is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of California Santa Barbara. Previously, she received her PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of Chicago and worked on particle astrophysics as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Delaware and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.