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Carol Jane Anger Rieke (1908–1999)

Published onDec 01, 2000
Carol Jane Anger Rieke (1908–1999)

Carol Jane Anger Rieke was born on January 17, 1908. She pursued classical studies at Northwestern University, changing her major after a fateful decision to take astronomy to satisfy a breadth requirement. Inquiries to astronomy graduate schools on her behalf were met with stem admonitions against women students—with the exception, of course, of Harlow Shapley at Harvard. In 1928, Anger started down the same trail that had been blazed by Cecelia Payne only four years earlier; to obtain a PhD in astronomy from Radcliffe College. Her thesis was published as seven Harvard College Observatory circulars between 1930 and 1935. First, she established the relationship between hydrogen absorption line width and luminosity for A and B stars in M7 and the Pleiades. After further tests and refinements of this relation, she compared the absolute and apparent magnitudes of these stars in 54 clusters to measure their distances. In addition, a newspaper article with the headline, "GIRL MEASURES LIGHT FROM STARS," described her demonstration ofultraviolet emission in stellar spectra, but the real news was that a "girl" had done the work. She received a PhD in 1933, along with the Caroline Wilby prize for the outstanding Radcliffe thesis that year. Outside the small island established by the previous director, Edward Pickering, and maintained and expanded by Shapley at Harvard College Observatory, there was little tolerance for woman astronomers. The island was indeed diminutive. The Harvard Physics Department had refused to accept Payne as a student; after she received her pioneering PhD, Shapley had to pay her from the grounds maintenance budget rather than as a faculty member. Any courses taught by women were omitted from the catalog.

Anger married Foster Rieke in 1932 and he obtained a position at Johns Hopkins University shortly thereafter, but there was no opportunity for her. However, a few years later she obtained a postdoctoral position with Nobel laureate Robert Mulliken at the University of Chicago, where her husband's career had taken them. For this position, she reinvented herself as a theoretical computational chemist. One of her assignments was to expand the newly adopted skeleton tables for steam into a full characterization. She used a large cylindrical slide rule in an unconventional way to accelerate the calculations. Although completed quickly, her work was a standard reference until it was replaced with the products of digital computers twenty years later. She also co-authored half a dozen papers on various aspects of computational chemistry with Mulliken. This era ended abruptly when her husband was summoned to work at the MIT Radiation Laboratory during World Warn, but she quickly found a position studying radar countermeasures. Following the war, he became a professor at Purdue University. 'Antinepotism' rules made any aspirations toward a faculty position for her untenable, but she became a lecturer at Purdue in mathematics and resumed work with Mulliken by correspondence. When career took her husband back to the University of Chicago in the early 50's, she obtained a part time position teaching mathematics and astronomy at the local community college. After her children left home, she expanded the position to full time and taught well past normal retirement for a twenty year uninterrupted career. A remarkable number of her students have become successful in engineering and science careers. Hampered by arthritis, dwindling eyesight, and the Chicago winters, she finally retired in her mid-seventies. Shortly afterwards, she moved to Tucson, Arizona, to be near her son; George,who is on the astronomy faculty at the University of Arizona.

Photo (available in PDF referenced below) courtesy of George Rieke

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