Vassar 150 Science

Vassar 150: Science

By Vassar Quarterly

As Vassar moves toward its sesquicentennial year, 2011, the Vassar Quarterly takes a look back at some significant moments in science and scientific inquiry.

Matthew Vassar commissions a collection of specimens for a natural history museum. The collection grows quickly, and today The A. Scott Warthin Museum of Geology and Natural History is located in Ely Hall.
The Observatory—later to become the Maria Mitchell Observatory—is the first completed building on Vassar’s campus.
Ellen Swallow Richards graduates, and goes on to become MIT’s first female faculty member and a pioneer in the field of ecology.
Margaret Floy Washburn graduates; she is the first woman in the country to establish a psychology laboratory and is later credited with beginning the cognitive sciences.
The Psychology Department is founded.
Grace Murray Hopper, later a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, graduates with honors in physics and math; her idea of machine-independent programming languages leads to the development of COBOL.
Fortran, the first successful computer programming language, is developed by an IBM team including Lois Mitchell Haibt ’55.
Mathematics professor Winifred “Tim” Asprey ’38 secures funds to purchase Vassar’s first computer, the IBM 360, and establishes the Computer Science Department.
The interdepartmental program in Biochemistry is established.
The multidisciplinary program in Science, Technology and Society is established.
Olmsted Hall of the Biological Sciences and the Biology Greenhouse is erected.
The multidisciplinary program in Cognitive Science is established.
Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI) is started.
Neuroscientist Patricia Shoer Goldman-Rakic ‘59 publishes a seminal paper on prefrontal cortex, breaking ground on research into schizophrenia.
Bernadine Healy ’65 becomes the first woman to direct the National Institutes of Health.
Ellen Kovner Silbergeld ’67 is named a MacArthur fellow for research on neurological problems caused by ingesting lead.
A 280-acre ecological preserve and its field station are built for the study of natural history, ecology, botany, and geology.
The Class of 1951 Observatory, containing two large reflecting telescopes, opens.
The multidisciplinary program in Environmental Studies is established with the help of faculty and students and the generosity of Priscilla Bullitt Collins ’42.
Vera Cooper Rubin ’48, credited with proving the existence of “dark matter,” is named among the 50 Most Important Women in Science by Discover magazine.
Faculty members John Long, Ken Livingston, Tom Ellman, Luke Hunsberger, and Brad Richards launch the Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory, the first such enterprise at an undergraduate institution in the U.S.
The interdepartmental program in Earth Science and Geography is established.
Professor Sau Lan Wu ’63 is among the lead scientists in Geneva to activate the Large Hadron Collider, a particle collider designed to recreate conditions of the big bang.

Professor Debra Elmegreen and team find signs of prehistoric life in a distant galaxy through analysis of Hubble Space Telescope data.

The National Science Foundation awards two grants totaling $3 million to Vassar College to support a scholarship program for math and science majors and to assist with the transformation of research and research training at Vassar.

Plans are underway for a new integrated science center. Read the next issue of the Vassar Quarterly for details.

Photo Credits:
Special Collections
Vassar College Libraries
1987: Photo Robert Lisak, courtesy Yale University