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 October 6, 2007

Professor Judith Pipher Inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame

Professor Judith Pipher was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame on October 6, 2007 for the exceptional advances she's made in the field of infrared astronomy, for her excellence as a teacher, and for her role as mentor to a new generation of young female scientists. (Photo: Judith Pipher, right, receives her award from National Women's Hall of Fame Board President Barbara DeBaptiste.)

A 2002 recipient of the University's Susan B. Anthony Lifetime Achievement Award, Pipher has been a member of the University of Rochester faculty since 1971, just after earning her doctorate from Cornell University in the newly emerging field of infrared astronomy.

"What an amazing opportunity to be at the forefront of a developing field -- how wonderful that a young graduate student actually could count on two hands all the astronomers in her field in the country!" said Pipher. Upon joining the University of Rochester, she was "the one female faculty member in our department of thirty," and today, she added, "only 10 percent of tenure-track physics and astronomy faculty nationwide are women."

Pipher was one of the first U.S. astronomers to turn an infrared array toward the skies. In 1982, Pipher and University of Rochester Professor Bill Forrest built the first infrared detector array camera for astronomy in the United States. Later that year, Giovanni Fazio of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics asked a team of astronomers to propose that NASA build an Infrared Array Camera, or IRAC, for what is now known as the Spitzer Space Telescope. Pipher and University of Rochester Professor Bill Forrest were on the team and convinced Giovanni that the technology they had been demonstrating was the one to pursue for IRAC. Pipher's IRAC team was one of three experiments chosen in the US in 1983, and the technology they advocated "proved wildly successful," as Pipher puts it.

She has since been involved in the development of near-infrared detector arrays, serving as one of the main forces moving the field from rudimentary single-pixel devices to today's multi-megapixel arrays. Pipher's work in infrared technology has had a profound influence on all subsequent work in astronomy, the study of our astronomical origins, and the study of the structure and evolution of the universe.

In 2003, NASA launched the Spitzer Space Telescope, which is equipped with the infrared detectors Pipher helped design. With the telescope now in orbit, Pipher uses the instrument to investigate, among other things, clusters of forming stars and brown dwarfs, massive, planet-like objects too small to become stars, and hence too cool and dark to be seen by ground-based telescopes. Likewise, interstellar dust obscures much of the visible spectrum of light, necessitating infrared instruments in space to peer through to the object beyond.  (lhg)