Kiwi as

This week’s keen individual who inspires and surprises had a mountain named after her in early 2011. Mt Tinsley, standing at 1,537m, is found within the Kelper mountain range 15km west of Te Anau. Mt Tinsley lies a mere 5km from Mt Pickering which was named after Sir William Pickering, another famous New Zealand astronomer.

As a toddler, Beatrice Tinsley moved to New Zealand with her parents and was educated in Christchurch and then New Plymouth Girls’ High School where she excelled in mathematics, languages, writing and music. At the age of 14 she decided that she wanted to be an astrophysicist and at 16 she was the High School Dux.? Beatrice went to Canterbury University to study mathematics, chemistry and physics. She completed a Master of Science with First Class Honours in Physics in 1961. Quote.

Tinsley?s research on how galaxies change and evolve over time changed the standard method for determining distances to far galaxies which, in turn, was significant in determining the size of the universe and its rate of expansion. At the time it was assumed that galaxies of the same type ? spiral, elliptical or lenticular ? would be a similar size, shape and luminosity. By comparing the size and luminosity of distant galaxies to nearby galaxies whose distance was already known, it was thought that an accurate distance could be obtained.

The central tenet of Tinsley?s 1966 Ph.D thesis ?Evolution of Galaxies and its Significance for Cosmology?, a dissertation described as ?extraordinary and profound? by her professors at the University of Texas at Austin, was that internal changes owing to the evolution of stellar and non-stellar material occur in galaxies over long periods, so that determining distances based on morphology alone was unreliable. Factors such as the abundances of chemical elements, the mass of the galaxy and the rate of starbirth were all important parameters in determining the distance and age of the galaxy and, by inference, the size and age of the universe. Tinsley?s work formed the basis for contemporary studies of galactic evolution.[…]

[After moving to the US]?She enrolled for a Ph.D at Austin in 1964 and completed it in 1966, taking about a third of the time it takes most people to do a Ph.D thesis. In her papers she received marks of 99% and 100%, the first student in the department to achieve marks of over 80%.

The main strands of her research were into the evolution of galaxies and the stars within them, culminating in the idea that galaxies undergo significant changes over a relatively short time span (short, that is, compared to the age of the universe). She pioneered models of galactic evolution ?more realistic than other models at the time, which combined a detailed understanding of stellar evolution with knowledge of the motions of stars and nuclear physics?, as described by a website biography (set up by San Francisco State University). Her models formed the basis of the first pictures of what ?protogalaxies? (galaxies in their infancy) might look like.

Her work on how the evolution of galaxies affects the origin and size of the universe had a profound effect on scientific knowledge. She also contributed to research to find out whether the universe is an open or closed system (that is, whether it has boundaries at the edges or whether it is able to keep expanding ad infinitum). […]

Over a relatively short academic career of 14 years, Professor Tinsley authored or co-authored around 100 scientific papers, mostly concerned with the evolution of galaxies. In addition she was a valuable mentor to younger women scientists in America and New Zealand, particularly during her tenure as professor at Yale. She was gifted and dedicated as a teacher and mentor, as well as a scientist, qualities that were recognised during her tenure at Yale, before her untimely death at the age of 40, in 1981.

In 1986, as a tribute to her, the American Astronomical Society established the Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize for outstanding creative contributions to astronomy or astrophysics. It was the only major award created by an American scientific society honouring a woman scientist. Her alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, also created the Beatrice M Tinsley Visiting Professorship in astronomy in her honour. End quote.

From the ‘Naki to the edge of the cosmos; Kiwi as!