Astronomy professor Debra Elmegreen joins Nobel laureates as American Association

Galaxy researcher Debra Meloy Elmegreen, the Maria Mitchell Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College, was recently inducted as a permanent Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an honor bestowed upon Elmegreen by peers for her contributions to science and technology. Elmegreen now shares this distinction with numerous Nobel laureates and her scientific forebear Maria Mitchell, the world’s first professional female astronomer and the first professor hired by college founder Matthew Vassar.

Elmegreen’s research interests include the structure of galaxies and star formation, and she has contributed to over 200 scholarly articles. Among her many achievements Elmegreen is completing a 2-year presidency of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), which at more than 7,000 members is the world’s largest organization of professional astronomers. Elmegreen’s duties have taken her before Congress numerous times to testify for funding of astronomical research, and in the AAS’s 110-year history she is its first president from a liberal arts college. Elmegreen has taught at Vassar since 1985.

“When I was young, one of the appeals of astronomy to me was that it seemed far removed from the problems on Earth. I was so naive that I had no idea that astronomy depended on federal funding and politics, like most other things,” recalls Elmegreen, whose AAS presidency continues through June. “I’ve learned how important it is for ordinary citizens to let Congress know what matters to them, and that political battles have lots of intricacies. It has all been fascinating to me.”

Prior to her presidency Elmegreen served two years on the National Research Council’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Committee, which each decade reports on the most urgent matters in the field and recommends a national strategy to Congress, NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other key agencies. In 1975 Elmegreen was the first woman to graduate with a bachelor's degree in astrophysics from Princeton, and she went on complete her Master’s and doctorate in astronomy at Harvard. Later Elmegreen was the first woman awarded a Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellowship for research at the prestigious Palomar Observatory in California.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world's largest general scientific society, and perhaps best known for its distinguished weekly journal Science.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

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