Pioneering UH astronomer featured in new book about navigating a male-dominated field

Ann Merchant Boesgaard

Ann Merchant BoesgaardEmeritus Astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy (If a), is featured in the new book Heaven is for everyonean internationally diverse collection of autobiographical essays by women who have broken down barriers and changed the face of modern astronomy.

Boesgaard began his career at If a in 1967, just a year after earning his PhD in 1966 from the University of California at Berkeley, under the direction of the famous astronomer George Herbig, who was to join If a 20 years later. She has spent her career studying the light elements – lithium, beryllium and boron – in the atmospheres of stars, in order to better understand their hidden workings.

“The light elements, lithium and beryllium, are extremely rare – just 2 atoms of Li for every billion atoms of hydrogen and a measly 25 atoms of Be for every trillion atoms of H,” Boesgaard said. . “Despite their rarity, the amounts of Li and Be on the surface of stars reveal exciting insights that we otherwise cannot get about the interiors of stars and how they change with age. It is very rewarding to continue this work on Maunakea because of the clear skies and advanced telescope instruments there.

Ann and Hans Boesgaard
Ann and her late husband Hans, a former If a Chief Engineer

In 2019, Boesgaard became one of five women to receive the coveted Henry Norris Russell Lectureship from the American Astronomical Society (SAA). The Russell Prize is the SAA‘ highest award, and is awarded annually on the basis of a lifetime of eminence in astronomical research. Boesgaard follows in the footsteps of the pioneers who have received the award since its inception in 1946; the first was the famous astronomer Cecelia Payne-Gaposckin (1976), E. Margaret Burbidge (1984), Vera Rubin (1994), Margaret Geller (2010) and Sandra Faber (2011).

Edited by astronomer Virginia Trimble and author David Weintraub, Heaven is for everyone, is a collection of personal essays by 37 female astronomers from around the world. They describe their experiences of navigating and revolutionizing a field historically male-dominated, including having no female role models or being the first in their family to attend college. Their collective stories shed light on the decades of difficult struggles that have brought women closer to equality in astronomy than ever before.

“Before the 1970s, very few graduate programs in astronomy offered admission to women, very few large observatories accepted applications from women, very few telescopes were open to women, and very few universities hired women. women in their faculties. It was true on a global scale,” Weintraub said. “In half a century, all that has changed. We need to know, remember and celebrate the courage of the women who made these changes possible. »

The book was critically acclaimed, The Editor’s Weekly reviewer wrote, “Filled with moving testimonials and awe-inspiring discoveries, it is a wonderful tribute to the joys of science and the difficult road many women have taken to forge their careers.”

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