Elson, Rebecca (Ann Wood) 1960-1999

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ELSON, Rebecca (Ann Wood) 1960-1999

PERSONAL: Born January 2, 1960, in Montreal, Ontario, Canada; died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma May 19, 1999, in Cambridge, England. Education: Smith College, 1980; attended St. Andrews University; University of British Columbia, M.S., 1982; Cambridge University, Ph.D., 1986.

CAREER: Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, fellow, 1986-89; Bunting Institute, Radcliffe College, fellow, 1989; Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, England, staff member, 1991-99. U.S. National Academy of Sciences, decennial review committee member, 1989.


A Responsibility to Awe, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: Rebecca Elson was an astronomer and a poet. Her research in astronomy, which she conducted until her death in 1999, focused on star clusters and stellar populations. Her interest in poetry began when she was a child. Elson's first poem was published in 1987, and a book of her poetry, A Responsibility to Awe, was published after her death. Physics Today contributors David J. Helfand and Gerry F. Gilmore expressed of Elson and her work, "Becky's scientific contributions helped significantly in widening our horizon, and her life made the universe just a bit more glorious."

A Responsibility to Awe, which was prepared by three editors after her death, is not just a collection of Elson's poetry. It also contains portions of her laboratory notes from her work at the Institute of Astronomy and an essay Elson wrote in 1998 titled "From Stones to Stars," which describes the development of her interest in science since she was a child. The poems included in A Responsibility to Awe are about astronomy, family, children, her cancer, and more. A Physics Web reviewer noted of Elson and her work, "She was both a successful astronomer and a fine poet, as this remarkable book, which brings together both her science and her art, makes clear."



Nature, December 20, 2001, Ingrid Flake, "The Poetic Mystery of Dark Matter," pp. 845-846.

New Scientist, November 3, 2001, Maggie McDonald, review of A Responsibility to Awe, p. 53.

Times Literary Supplement, April 19, 2002, Stephen Knight, "Signs of Unseen Things," p. 24.


Astronomical Society of the Pacific Web site,http://www.astrosociety.org/ (August 29, 2002), review of A Responsibility to Awe.

Carcanet Press Web site,http://www.carcanet.co.uk/ (August 29, 2002).

Physics Web,http://physicsweb.org/ (August 29, 2002), "Dark Matter in Poetic Measure."

Stride Magazine,http://www.madbear.demon.co.uk/ (August 29, 2002), Jane Routh, review of A Responsibility to Awe.



Independent, June 29, 1999, Wayne Hill, "Rebecca Elson," p. S7.

Physics Today, September, 1999, David J. Helfand and Gerry F. Gilmore, "Rebecca Anne Wood Elson," pp. 74, 76.*