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Paris Marie Pişmiş (1911–1999)

Published onJan 01, 1999
Paris Marie Pişmiş (1911–1999)

On August 1st, a cherished teacher and friend, Paris Pişmiş, passed away. During her lifetime Pişmiş published more than 120 research articles on various topics of astrophysics. Her primary interest was galactic structure. She carried out some of the first photometric observations of young stellar clusters and discovered three globular clusters and 20 open clusters. She also studied the effects of interstellar absorption in stellar associations on the observed stellar distribution. She sought to explain the origin and development of the spiral structure of galaxies and to discover a reason for the waves of their rotation curves, based on different stellar populations. In 1972, Pişmiş introduced Fabry-Perot interferometry to Mexico to study the velocity field of galactic emission nebulae.

She examined several nebulae using this technique and data from the Observatorio Astronomico Nacional at Tonantzintla and San Pedro Mártir. Recently, she also investigated the morphology and kinematics of mildly active nuclei of galaxies. Paris took an active part in editing various astronomical publications. She supervised three volumes of the Astrophotometric Catalogue of Tacubaya (1966) and the IAU Colloquium 33, Observational Parameters and Dynamical Evolution of Multiple Stars (1975).

Her primary contribution, however, was to foster the publication of Mexican astronomical journals. From 1966 to 1973 she edited Boletín de los Observatorios de Tonantzintla y Tacubaya. She also edited Revista Mexicana de Astronomía y Astrofísica from 1974, when it was founded. Pişmiş was an active member of several professional organizations: the American Astronomical Society, Royal Astronomical Society, Academia Mexicana de Ciencias, Sociedad Mexicana de Fisica, and the International Astronomical Union, in which she was a member of Commissions 28, 33, and 34. Born in Turkey, Paris Pişmiş became one of the first women to attend Istanbul University. She enrolled in the Faculty of Sciences and earned a PhD degree in Mathematics in 1937. Her supervisors were Professors R. Von Mises and Erwin Finley-Freundlich. As a student, Paris worked at the Istanbul University Observatory.

She served as an interpreter and research assistant to Freundlich, who later helped her to obtain a scholarship to attend Harvard University. Before the beginning of WW II, Pişmiş traveled to the United States to become an assistant astronomer at Harvard College Observatory (HCO), a position she held from 1939 to 1942. At HCO, she was in an intellectually stimulating environment of astronomers such as Harlow Shapley, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Bart Bok, Donald Menzel, Fred Whipple and many inspiring visitors. In 1942, Pişmiş married Félix Recillas, a Mexican astronomy student. They traveled to Mexico to join the recently founded Observatorio Astrofísico de Tonantzintla in Puebla, where Paris worked until 1946. Pişmiş moved to Mexico City in 1948 where she joined the Observatorio Astronómico Nacional at Tacubaya, which was part of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). For more than 50 years, she worked at UNAM where she became Astronomer Emerita in what is now known as the Instituto de Astronomía.

Her colleagues appreciated her research and UNAM also recognized her achievements by granting her a PhD Honoris Causa. In 1955, Paris began teaching formal astronomy courses, the first such curriculum ever in Mexico. For many years she was a major driving force in the development of new astronomers. She tutored several undergraduate students who became professional astronomers: Arcadio Poveda, Eugenio Mendoza, Enrique Chavira, Deborah Dultzin, Alfonso Serrano, Alejandro Ruelas and Marco Moreno, among others. For her work in educating young astronomers, UNAM awarded Pişmiş the Science Teaching Prize. One of Paris' characteristics was her ongoing interest in new astrophysical developments. She was always interested in innovative scientific ideas and techniques. Another characteristic was her noticeable positive influence on everyone around her at the Instituto de Astronomía — both her colleagues and her students. In a very unassuming way, she was an effective role model for young women. As a result, of the 80 astronomers currently at the Institute, a relatively high proportion (25 %) are women. She will be remembered not only by Mexican astronomers, but by her colleagues and collaborators around the world. Paris published her memoirs in 1998 under the title, Reminiscences in the Life of Paris Pişmiş: a Woman Astronomer.

Photo courtesy of Silvia Torres-Peimbert.

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