Dava Sobel: "The Glass Universe" | Talks at Google

Dava Sobel is a former New York Times science reporter and a repeated New York Times bestselling author. Her past books include "Longitude", "Galileo's Daughter", and "The Planets". A recipient of multiple awards, including the prestigious Bradford Washburn Award from the Boston Museum of Science for her “outstanding contribution toward public understanding of science, appreciation of its fascination, and the vital roles it plays in all our lives”, Dava even has an asteroid named after her. Dava visited Google Seattle office to discuss her latest book, "The Glass Universe", named one of the best books of the year by NPR, The Economist, Smithsonian, Nature, and NPR's Science Friday.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.

The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight.