Beatrice Tinsley

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Beatrice Tinsley
Beatrice Tinsley.jpg
Born(1941-01-27)27 January 1941
Chester, England
Died23 March 1981(1981-03-23) (aged 40)
New Haven, Connecticut, United States
ResidenceUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Canterbury; University of Texas at Austin
Known forEvolution of galaxies
AwardsAAS Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy (1974)
Scientific career
InstitutionsYale University

Beatrice Muriel Hill Tinsley (27 January 1941 – 23 March 1981) was a British-born New Zealand astronomer and cosmologist whose research made fundamental contributions to the astronomical understanding of how galaxies evolve, grow and die.


Tinsley was born 1941 in Chester, England, as the middle of three daughters of Jean and Edward Hill.[1] The family emigrated to New Zealand following World War II, first living in Christchurch, and then for a longer time in New Plymouth, where her father, Edward Hill, was a clergyman, Moral Re-Armer, and later became the mayor (1953–56).

While studying in Christchurch, she married physicist and university classmate Brian Tinsley, not knowing that this would prevent her from working at the University while he was employed there.[1] They moved in 1963 to the United States, to Dallas, Texas, where Brian was hired by the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies (now, the University of Texas). However, she was said to have found the situation "stultifying", and had once caused a controversy by refusing to follow the custom of hosting a faculty tea.[1] In 1964, she enrolled at UT-Austin, where she was the only woman in the astronomy program and where she would later publish her groundbreaking research.[2]

Despite receiving recognition for her work, Tinsley was unable to find a permanent academic position. In 1974, after years of attempting to balance home, family and two commuting careers, she left her husband and two adopted children to take a position as assistant professor at Yale[1]. She worked there until her death from cancer in the Yale Infirmary in 1981. Her ashes are buried in the campus cemetery. [1]


Tinsley attended New Plymouth Girls' High School, then studied at the University of Canterbury where she completed a B.Sc. and then a Master of Science degree in 1961, with First Class Honours in Physics. Her Doctor of Philosophy PhD was awarded by the University of Texas in Austin in 1966, with the thesis Evolution of Galaxies and its Significance for Cosmology.

Professional activity[edit]

Tinsley completed pioneering theoretical studies of how populations of stars age and affect the observable qualities of galaxies. She also collaborated on basic research into models investigating whether the universe is closed or open. Her galaxy models led to the first approximation of what protogalaxies should look like.

In 1974 she received the American Astronomical Society's Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy, awarded for "outstanding research and promise for future research by a postdoctoral woman researcher", in recognition of her work on galaxy evolution.[3]

In 1977, Tinsley, with Richard Larson of Yale, organised a conference on 'The Evolution of Galaxies and Stellar Populations'.

Shortly after, in 1978, she became the first female professor of astronomy at Yale University.[4] Her last scientific paper, submitted to the Astrophysical Journal ten days before her death, was published posthumously that November, without revision.[5][note 1]


Mount Tinsley from the Town of Manapouri

In 1986 the American Astronomical Society established the Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize, which recognises "an outstanding research contribution to astronomy or astrophysics, of an exceptionally creative or innovative character."[6] It is the only major award created by an American scientific society which honours a woman scientist. The award is not made with restriction on a candidate's citizenship or country of residence.[6]

The main-belt asteroid 3087 Beatrice Tinsley, discovered in 1981 at Mt John University Observatory near Tekapo, is also named after her.[7]

The University of Texas at Austin established from endowment in 1989 the Beatrice M. Tinsley Centennial Visiting Professorship, where a distinguished mid-career or senior professor is invited to visit for up to a semester.[8] In 2007 they added the Tinsley Scholars, awards for younger researchers to briefly visit Austin.[8]

In 2005, the Circa Theatre in Wellington produced a play called Bright Star, about the life of Beatrice Tinsley.[9] The Wellington Astronomical Society held telescope viewing sessions outside the theatre, on the wharf next to the Te Papa Museum.

In December 2010 the New Zealand Geographic Board officially named a mountain in Fiordland's Kepler Mountains (which are named for the astronomer Johannes Kepler) as Mt Tinsley.[10][11]

The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand established the Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lectures[12] in 2012.

Beatrice Tinsley Crescent in Rosedale, on Auckland's North Shore, is named for her. It runs off William Pickering Drive and is joined by Ride Way.

On 27 January 2016, the 75th anniversary of her birth, Google published a Doodle to honour her work.[13]

Her obituary was published by The New York Times several decades later on 18 July 2018,[1] in their "Overlooked" project, which aims to note "the stories of remarkable people whose deaths went unreported in The Times".

In 2018, the Yale Society of Physics Students began an inaugural prize lecture in honor of Tinsley. [14]

Selected publications[edit]


  1. ^ The editor's note: "Deceased on 1981 March 23, thus ending prematurely a distinguished career. The text of this last paper was not revised, although Michele Kaufman kindly added some clarifying definitions and comments."


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Overlooked No More: Beatrice Tinsley, Astronomer Who Saw the Course of the Universe". New York Times. 18 July 2018.
  2. ^ "This Astronomer Had to Make the Hardest Career Choice". American Association of University Women. 2014-07-16.
  3. ^ "AAS Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy". Archived from the original on 2 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-18.
  4. ^ "The Life of Beatrice Tinsley". Retrieved 2016-01-27.
  5. ^ Tinsley, B.M. (1981). "Chemical evolution in the solar neighborhood. IV – Some revised general equations and a specific model". Astrophysical Journal. 250: 758–768. Bibcode:1981ApJ...250..758T. doi:10.1086/159425.
  6. ^ a b "Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize". American Astronomical Society. Archived from the original on 22 December 2010. Retrieved 18 November 2009.
  7. ^ "Citation for (3087)". Cambridge, MA: Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 2009-11-18.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ a b "External Review 2009" (PDF). University of Texas at Austin Department of Astronomy/McDonald Observatory. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 June 2010. Retrieved 2009-11-18.
  9. ^ "Circa Theatre: Bright Star". Archived from the original on 2006-02-07. Retrieved 2009-11-18.
  10. ^ "Mount Pickering and Mount Tinsley". Archived from the original on 15 December 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-18.
  11. ^ Mackay, Scot (20 January 2011). "Historian's mountainous goal reached". The Southland Times. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
  12. ^ "The Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lectures". Archived from the original on 28 July 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-03.
  13. ^ "Beatrice Tinsley’s 75th Birthday".
  14. ^

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Other biographies:

Other material: