Watching the movie Space Camp at age 12 inspired Aomawa Shields to become an astronomer. In addition to her Ph.D. in astronomy, she has a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting. Aomawa created Rising Stargirls, an organization that encourages girls of all colors and backgrounds to explore the universe.
A Diverse Universe
Be a Part of the New Astronomy Discovery Center
A unique part of the Astronomy Discovery Center will be our Diverse Universe Wall. This space will feature brief biographies of cosmic explorers past and present. Just as no two planets, stars or galaxies are alike, neither are the people who study them. Our goal is to inspire children to see themselves as future scientists by showing the human side of scientists from around the world – their unique life stories, challenges they’ve overcome, surprising hobbies, unusual career paths, etc. Our message is that there’s a place for everyone in astronomy.
You can sponsor a scientist’s plaque on the Diverse Universe Wall for $3,500. Your gift can be made over several years if desired.
Now is the time to leave your mark on this new facility and help us inspire visitors of all ages.
For more information contact Rachel Edelstein at (928) 255-0229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sponsor a Plaque
Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri | From the United Arab Emirates to the Red Planet
Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri helped lead the United Arab Emirates’ first mission to Mars with the launch of the al-Amal (‘Hope’) spacecraft in 2020. Sarah’s fascination with space began at the age of 12 when she saw a photograph of the Andromeda galaxy. Today, she’s the UAE’s Minister of State for Advanced Technology.
Munazza Alam | Reaching for the Stars
Munazza Alam is a PhD student in astronomy at Harvard University, where she studies exoplanets and hopes to discover Earth’s twin. A first-generation Muslim American, Munazza grew up in New York City. “Guided by the beautiful wisdom of the Holy Qur’an, I am inspired to pursue my research,” she says.
Claudia Alexander | “I’m pretty much a normal person who’s doing science”
Planetary scientist Claudia Alexander helped lead NASA’s Galileo spacecraft mission to Jupiter. She also loved to write books for children and science fiction stories. “I was the only black girl in pretty much an all-white school and spent a lot of time by myself — with my imagination.” Claudia passed away in 2015.
Ibrahim Amiri | A Star of Peace
Despite living in a harsh environment and struggling for peace, Ibrahim Amiri brings the wonders of the universe to the people of his homeland, Afghanistan. Ibrahim’s fascination with astronomy began at the age of 7 when he saw Comet Hale-Bopp in the sky above a refugee camp in Pakistan, where he was born. “It changed my life,” he says.
Benjamin Banneker | The Colors of the Night
Born in 1731, Benjamin Banneker was a free black man when many African Americans were still slaves. A self-taught astronomer who published his own almanac, he also fought for racial equality. In 1791, Benjamin wrote to Thomas Jefferson denouncing the future president’s hypocrisy for keeping slaves while asserting that “all men are created equal.”
Nadine Barlow | Making an Impact
A trip to a planetarium in 5th grade inspired Nadine Barlow to become a planetary scientist. As a professor at Northern Arizona University for two decades, she studied impact craters on Mars and other worlds. She also won numerous awards for teaching excellence. “Believe in yourself,” Nadine said. Sadly, she died of cancer in 2020.
Yuri Beletsky | Capturing the Cosmos
Born in the eastern European nation of Belarus, Yuri Beletsky now works as an astronomer at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. He’s also an award-winning nightscape photographer. Yuri’s beautiful images of the heavens have been featured more than 50 times on NASA’s popular Astronomy Picture of the Day website.
Malik Bossett | “Don’t hide your STEM curiosity, share it with your community”
Malik Bossett is a student at Northern Arizona University. He plans to become a professional astronomer and hopes to search for planets and life beyond Earth. Malik’s interest in astronomy was sparked as a young boy when his father would take him to see the solar system exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences.
Tycho Brahe | A Nose for Astronomy
Tycho Brahe’s observations of the planets helped reveal the laws that guide their motion. But the 16th century Danish astronomer was also known for his eccentric lifestyle. Tycho had a fake nose made of metal because he’d lost his real one in a sword fight and lived in a castle with a beer-drinking elk.
George Carruthers | The Telescope Maker and the Moon
George Carruthers was an African American space scientist and inventor. Born in 1939, he built his first telescope from mail-order lenses and a cardboard tube at the age of 10. After earning his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, he continued to design innovative new telescopes including one that went to the Moon with Apollo 16.
Paul Coleman | “Astronomy is so much a part of being Hawaiian”
Stargazing in Hawaii goes back nearly two thousand years. Hawaiian astronomers, called kilo hōkū or “star watchers,” were revered members of society. Paul Coleman continued that tradition and helped inspire a new generation of kānaka maoli scientists. In 1985, he became the first Native Hawaiian to earn a doctorate in astrophysics. Sadly, Paul passed away in 2018.
Wanda Díaz-Merced | Hearing the Universe
Wanda Díaz-Merced began losing her eyesight in her 20s. “It left me without a way to do my science,” she says. So, the Puerto Rican astronomer developed software that turns astronomical data into sounds that can be heard and analyzed, a process called sonification. “We all may contribute just as we are,” Wanda says.
Maret Einasto | Cosmic Cartographer
Estonian astronomer Maret Einasto followed in the footsteps of her astronomer father, Jaan, to map the distribution of galaxies in space. She has discovered some of the largest systems of galaxies in the universe. Maret’s family name is an anagram of “Estonia,” chosen by her grandfather to honor their beloved homeland.
Albert Einstein | “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”
Albert Einstein was not only a brilliant scientist, but also a great humanitarian. When singer Marian Anderson performed at Princeton University in 1937, she was denied a room at the local whites-only hotel because she was African American. Albert promptly invited her to stay at his home and they became lifelong friends.
JJ Eldridge | The Secret Life of Stars
JJ Eldridge is a theoretical astrophysicist based in New Zealand who creates computer models to understand how stars work. JJ is non-binary – identifying outside the male or female gender binary – and a strong advocate of LGBTQ inclusion in science. “If we all look the same, we’ll all think the same,” they say.
Rebecca Elson | Astronomer and Poet
Rebecca Elson was a Canadian astronomer with a poet’s heart. In addition to her research on galaxies, she also wrote poems that explored the mysteries of the cosmos. Rebecca died of cancer at the age of 39. A collection of her poems, A Responsibility to Awe, was published after her death.
The way they tell it
All the stars have wings
The sky so full of wings
There is no sky
And just for a moment
The error and the crimped
Paths of light
And you see it
The immense migration
And you hear the rush
Jayanne English | The Universe As Art
Jayanne English is an astronomer and artist from Canada. After earning a diploma in experimental art, she went on to get her Ph.D. in astrophysics. Jayanne’s passion is turning data from Hubble and other telescopes into unique and captivating images. “Astronomy allows you to be exceedingly creative,” she says.
Fang Lizhi | Science and Society
Fang Lizhi was a Chinese astrophysicist and human rights activist who helped spark the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. “Scientists must express their feelings about all aspects of society,” he said. Forced to flee his homeland, Lizhi came to Arizona. He continued to study the universe’s origin and to defend freedom of thought until his death in 2012.
Joan Feynman | A Northern Light
“Women’s brains can’t do science,” Joan Feynman’s mother told her. But Joan proved her wrong. She became one of the world’s leading experts on auroras, publishing more than 100 scientific papers during a career that spanned six decades. Joan was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 2002. She died in 2020.
Williamina Fleming | From Maid to Astronomer
Abandoned by her husband in 1878, Williamina Fleming was a single mom in need of a job. She found work as a maid at the home of Harvard’s leading astronomer. Soon she was helping with astronomical research too. Williamina went on to create a system for classifying stars and catalogued thousands of them.
Francesca Fragkoudi | Using Astronomy for Peace
Francesca Fragkoudi is an astronomer from Cyprus, a small Mediterranean island with a history of conflict. Francesca founded the Columba-Hypatia: Astronomy for Peace project to build bridges between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities of the island, using astronomy as a common starting point to encourage cooperation and stimulate scientific curiosity.
Edwin Brant Frost | The Blind Astronomer
Edwin Brant Frost lost his eyesight at the height of his scientific career. But he never gave up. Instead, the blind astronomer found new ways to explore the universe with his other senses. “One can see much without the use of the eyes,” he said. A deeply spiritual man, he was an inspiration to many.
Isaura Fuentes Carrera | Descubriendo el Universo
Isaura Fuentes Carrera is an astronomer at Mexico’s Instituto Politécnico Nacional. She studies the origin and evolution of galaxies. “As a woman, I can tell you that astronomy is a door to many, many wonderful worlds where all roles are allowed,” Isaura says. “Just open it.”
Percy Gomez | Un Astronómo Peruano
Born in Peru, Percy Gomez is now an astronomer at Keck Observatory in Hawaii. “The only course I ever failed was my high school physics class,” he recalls. But Percy never gave up. Today, he helps other astronomers carry out their observations at Keck and does his own research on galaxy clusters.
George Ellery Hale | Hale’s Demon
George Ellery Hale was an American astronomer and a visionary telescope builder. He oversaw construction of the world’s biggest telescope four different times. George also struggled with mental illness throughout his life, most likely bipolar disorder, which he called his “demon.” The 200-inch Hale Telescope in California is named in his honor.
Stephen Hawking | A Mind That Roamed the Universe
“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny,” Stephen Hawking said, and nobody knew that better than him. Diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21, he was confined to a wheelchair most of his life. But Hawking’s mind roamed freely through a universe of black holes and quantum gravity.
Charlene Heisler | Passion and Perseverance
Charlene Heisler’s doctor advised her not to become an astronomer. The young Canadian suffered from cystic fibrosis, an incurable disease. But she never gave up. After earning her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1991, Charlene continued to explore the universe until the disease took her life at the age of 37.
John Herschel | It Takes a Village
The village of Herschel in western Canada is named for 19th-century British astronomer John Herschel. The son of William Herschel, who discovered Uranus, John was a respected scientist in his own right. He named several moons of Saturn and Uranus. He also coined the word photography, from Greek for “drawing with light.”
Milton Humason | From Janitor to Astronomer
After dropping out of school at the age of 14, Milton Humason found work as a janitor at Mount Wilson Observatory. His intelligence and perseverance eventually led to him becoming a member of the scientific staff. Thanks to his skills at the telescope, Milt made pioneering observations of the expanding universe.
Edward Israel | Arctic Astronomer
Edward Israel died of cold and hunger a thousand miles north of the Arctic Circle. He was only 24 years old. The young astronomer had joined the Greely Expedition in 1881 to explore the far north. But the crew ran short of food and supplies. Of the 25 men who embarked on the expedition, only six survived.
Hafizah Noor Binti Isa | Ripples In Space and Time
Hafizah Noor Binti Isa is an astrophysicist at the International Islamic University Malaysia. She’s part of an international team that first detected gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein. “I really hope that I can inspire many more Malaysians, especially the young ones, to dream big,” she says.
Frank Kameny | Gay Rights Pioneer
Astronomer Frank Kameny was fired in 1957 for being homosexual. He challenged his dismissal, calling it an “affront to human dignity.” After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case, Frank dedicated the rest of his life to fighting for gay rights. Asteroid 40463 Frankkameny is named in his honor.
Jean-Baptiste Kikwaya Eluo | From Theology to Astronomy
Jean-Baptiste Kikwaya Eluo is a Jesuit priest and an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he’s an expert on meteors. Recalling his childhood interest in astronomy, Jean-Baptiste says, “When I looked at the sky, I felt a certain closeness to God.” Asteroid 23443 Kikwaya is named in his honor.
Dorothea Klumpke | A View Like No Other
Dorothea Klumpke was the first woman to obtain a Ph.D for research in astronomy. Her 1893 doctoral dissertation was a study of Saturn’s rings. In 1899, she flew in a hot air balloon over Paris at night to observe the Leonid meteor shower from high above Earth.
Marina Koren | Communicating Wonder
Marina Koren is a science reporter at The Atlantic. She writes about astronomical discoveries, from research on the planets and moons of our solar system to the stars and galaxies far beyond. Marina studied journalism, English literature, and psychology at the University of Delaware.
Marie Korsaga | West Africa’s First Female Astronomer
“I never imagined that I would become an astrophysicist,” says Marie Korsaga from Burkina Faso. She earned her Ph.D. in 2019 from South Africa’s University of Cape Town and Aix-Marseille Université in France. Today, Marie is an expert on galaxies and dark matter. She hopes to inspire young people in her home country to study science, especially girls.
Hisako Koyama | Four Decades of Sketching the Sun
Day after day for half a century, Hisako Koyama sketched sunspots visible on the Sun’s surface. She made more than 10,000 detailed drawings, which provide a unique record of our star’s activity, including the largest sunspot ever recorded (in April 1947). Asteroid 3383 Koyama is named in her honor.
Dennis Lamenti | A Spiritual Scientist
“Astronomy is a spiritual path for me,” said Diné (Navajo) astronomer Dennis Lamenti. To him, the universe embodies the Diné concept of hózhǫ́: beauty, balance, and harmony. Sadly, Dennis passed away in 2012 while pursuing his dream of earning a Ph.D. in astronomy at Indiana University.
Annette Lee | “The connection to the stars is your lifeline”
Annette Lee is an astrophysicist, visual artist, and professor at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. She is mixed-race Lakota and part of the Ojibwe and D/Lakota communities. Annette founded Native Skywatchers, an initiative that blends art, science, and culture to revitalize indigenous astronomy. “Culture is everything,” she says.
Georges Lemaître | Father of the Big Bang
Georges Lemaître was a Belgian priest and astrophysicist. He’s often called the “father of the Big Bang.” In 1927, the same year he got his doctorate. from MIT, Georges proposed that the universe is expanding from a ‘primordial atom.’ He believed strongly that science and religion are not incompatible.
Terry Lovejoy | Comet Hunter From Down Under
Amateur astronomers far outnumber professionals, and they’ve made many important contributions to science. Terry Lovejoy is a self-taught amateur astronomer who has discovered numerous comets. He works as an information technology specialist by day, but at night he scans the skies for comets with his backyard telescope in Brisbane, Australia.
Stacy Mader | A Long Tradition of Stargazing
Stacy Mader was the first Aboriginal Australian to obtain a Ph.D. in astronomy. He’s a member of the Kija people, one of western Australia’s indigenous cultures. Aboriginal Australians have been stargazers for tens of thousands of years, perhaps the world’s first astronomers. Stacy specializes in radio astronomy, using telescopes across Australia.
Brian May | A Musical Star
Most people know Brian May as the guitarist for Queen. But he’s also an astronomer. Brian earned his doctorate in astronomy from Imperial College London in 2007, four decades after halting his studies to pursue a musical career. “It’s the most spiritually empowering thing I know, to look up at the night sky,” he says.
Nergis Mavalvala | “I am just myself…out of that comes something positive”
Nergis Mavalvala is an astrophysicist at MIT. She studies gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space and time. Nergis won a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant in 2010 and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2017. Born in Pakistan, she describes herself as an “out, queer person of color.”
Dimitri Mihalas | Gravity and Grace
Dimitri Mihalas was a pioneer in computational astrophysics and an expert on how stars shine. He also suffered from bipolar disorder and experienced major bouts of depression during his life. Dimitri wrote essays and books to help others cope with mental illness. “We all have broken places,” he said. He died in 2013.
Jessica Mink | “I am what I am”
Jessica Mink is an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where she creates computer software that’s used by many researchers. At the age of 60, Jessica transitioned from male to female. “I realized that the world was ready for me to work with my colleagues as a woman astronomer,” she says.
Maria Mitchell | America’s First Woman Astronomer
Maria Mitchell was America’s first female astronomer. She gained international fame after discovering a comet in 1847. A tireless advocate for women in science, Maria was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her spirit has inspired generations of astronomers to follow their dreams.
Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil | Galaxy Hunter
Turkish astronomer Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil faced many challenges along the way to becoming a scientist. “There was a lot of societal pressure and stereotypes,” she says, “but I didn’t want to blend in, I wanted to stand out and worked hard to live beyond labels.” Today, a galaxy she discovered is named for her: Burçin’s Galaxy.
Priyamvada Natarajan | “Each one of us gets to define success in our own terms”
Growing up in India, Priyamvada Natarajan had many interests. “I loved science and math. But I was also interested in history, writing, poetry, art.” Now a distinguished astronomy professor at Yale, she has made many seminal contributions to our understanding of black holes, dark matter, and more. Priya is also a published author and poet.
Jason Nordhaus | Breaking Down Barriers
Jason Nordhaus is an expert on the evolution of stars. He’s also passionate about expanding opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in astronomy. The Rochester Institute of Technology professor is fluent in American Sign Language, and his AstroDance project uses interpretive dance to bring astronomy to audiences with diverse hearing abilities.
Francisca Nneka Okeke | Fascinated by the Sky
As a little girl, Francisca Nneka Okeke was fascinated by the sky. Today, the Nigerian physicist studies how the Sun’s energy affects our planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field. A strong supporter of women in science, Francisca has received numerous international awards including the prestigious 2013 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award.
Cláudia Lúcia Mendes de Oliveira | Uma Estrela Brasileira
A telescope’s mirror collects light from distant planets, stars, and galaxies. But it’s the telescope’s instruments that decode the light’s secrets. Brazilian astronomer Cláudia Lúcia Mendes de Oliveira has helped lead her country’s development of state-of-the-art astronomical instruments for large telescopes. She was elected a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences in 2019.
Amelia Ortiz-Gil | A Touch of the Universe
Amelia Ortiz-Gil is passionate about bringing the stars to those with special needs. The Spanish astronomer has pioneered the creation of tactile astronomical experiences for blind and visually impaired people of all ages. She has also developed astronomy content for people with hearing limitations, motor impairments, and cognitive challenges.
Premana Premadi | “I have to stay strong”
Premana Premadi is the Director of Bosscha Observatory. It’s the oldest and largest astronomical observatory in Indonesia. Nana, as she is known, suffers from ALS, but doesn’t let the disease stop her from sharing her love of astronomy with children. Asteroid 12937 Premadi is named in her honor.
Sally Ride | Astrophysicist and Astronaut
Most astronauts aren’t astronomers, but a few have been. In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space. She was also the first known LGBTQ astronaut, although this was only revealed after her death in 2012. Sally was an astrophysicist by training, with a Ph.D. from Stanford University.
Isaac Roberts | Catcher of Light
“Heaven is within us,” Isaac Roberts’ tombstone says. But the Welsh businessman also delighted in exploring the faraway heavens. In 1883, he began experimenting with astronomical photography and became a pioneer in this field. His long exposures of the Orion, Andromeda, and other nebulae revealed structures never before seen. A crater on the Moon is named in his honor.
Valentina Rodriguez | Unextinguished Light
A journalist by training, Valentina Rodriguez is a science communicator who has worked for major observatories in Chile. She was raised by her grandparents after her mother and father were killed during the 1973 military coup in her homeland. “Astronomy has somehow helped me give another dimension to the pain, to the absence, to the loss,” Valentina says.
Andrea Rodríguez-Antón | Stars and Stones
Andrea Rodríguez-Antón is a Spanish astrophysicist who specializes in archaeoastronomy, the astronomy of ancient cultures. She’s an expert on the role of astronomy in the Roman culture and politics. Andrea also participates in the Amanar: Under the Same Sky project that uses astronomy to inspire Saharawi children in Algerian refugee camps.
Vera Rubin | A Light in the Darkness
Vera Rubin was a pioneer in the study of dark matter, the invisible stuff that pervades the cosmos. “I became an astronomer because I couldn’t imagine living on Earth and not trying to understand how the Universe works,” she said. Vera did some of her research here at Lowell Observatory.
Lucien Rudaux | Painting the Stars
There are places in the universe where telescopes can’t take us, such as inside black holes or the surfaces of faraway planets. Those are left for the imagination – or the hands of artists like Lucien Rudaux. His cosmic paintings in the 1920s and 30s were some of the first realistic depictions of other worlds.
María Teresa Ruiz | Embroidering the Cosmic Tapestry
Chilean astronomer María Teresa Ruiz was the first woman to receive a doctorate in astrophysics from Princeton University. In 1997, she discovered Kelu-1, a pair of objects smaller than stars but bigger than planets. María Teresa also loves to embroider, a hobby she began when she went to study abroad and crafted a family portrait to bring with her.
Philip Sadler | A Portable Universe
In 1977, Philip Sadler and his middle school students invented the StarLab portable planetarium. Today, it’s the most widely used planetarium in the world. These low-cost projectors and inflatable domes bring the universe to millions of children and adults yearly, weaving together the science and culture of the heavens.
Queen Seondeok | Cosmic Queen
Queen Seondeok was Korea’s first female monarch, reigning from 632 to 647. She was fascinated by astronomy from a young age. “Will I ever know the truth about the stars?” she wondered. Cheomseongdae Observatory, the oldest existing astronomical observatory in Asia, was built during her reign. Its name means “star gazing platform.”
Harlow Shapley | Astronomer by Chance
Harlow Shapley planned to become a journalist, not an astronomer. But there was no journalism program when he enrolled at the University of Missouri in 1907. Looking for something else to study, he ended up in astronomy because it was one of the first subjects he came across in the university’s alphabetized course catalog.
Aomawa Shields | “Stars shine in many colors”
Carolyn Shoemaker | It’s Never Too Late
Carolyn Shoemaker earned university degrees in history, political science, and literature. But she was fascinated by the work of her astrogeologist husband, Gene, and at the age of 51 decided to embark on her own career in science. Carolyn discovered hundreds of asteroids and dozens of comets, including Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that hit Jupiter in 1994.
Solomon Belay Tessema | From Ethiopia to the Stars
Solomon Belay Tessema leads the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute. His research includes stars, galaxies, and cultural astronomy of eastern Africa. He sees Ethiopia’s space program as vital for reducing poverty and hunger in his country. “Ethiopia is growing fast,” Solomon says. “We will see an Ethiopian astronaut in my lifetime.”
Hanny van Arkel | Putting the “I” in Science
In 2007, Dutch schoolteacher Hanny van Arkel noticed a mysterious blob in an image she was examining for a citizen science project called Galaxy Zoo. It’s now known as Hanny’s Voorwerp, Dutch for “Hanny’s Object.” Astronomers think it’s a giant cloud of gas illuminated by a powerful blast from a supermassive black hole.
Wang Zhenyi | “Are you not convinced that daughters can also be heroic?”
Wang Zhenyi (王貞儀) was one of China’s greatest scholars. Born in 1768, she battled sexism to become an astronomer, mathematician, and poet. Zhenyi believed that everyone can understand science if it’s explained clearly. A crater on the planet Venus is named in her honor.
Thomas Wright | The Language of the Universe
Thomas Wright coined the word “galaxy” in 1750. Forced to leave school at the age of 14 because of a severe speech impediment, he continued to study astronomy at home. “I can never look upon the stars without wondering why the whole world does not become astronomers,” he said.