Margaret Geller

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Margaret J. Geller
Geller in 1981.
Margaret Joan Geller

(1947-12-08) December 8, 1947 (age 76)[1]
Alma materUC Berkeley (B.A., 1970)
Princeton University (Ph.D., 1975)
AwardsNewcomb Cleveland Prize (1989)
MacArthur Fellowship (1990)
Klopsteg Memorial Award (1996)
Magellanic Premium (2008)
James Craig Watson Medal (2010)
Russell Lectureship (2010)
Lilienfeld Prize (2013)
Karl Schwarzschild Medal (2014)
Scientific career
FieldsAstrophysics: Galaxies and Cosmology
InstitutionsSmithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Thesis Bright Galaxies in Rich Clusters: A Statistical Model for Magnitude Distributions.  (1974)
Doctoral advisorJim Peebles
Doctoral studentsTimothy Beers
Marc Postman

Margaret J. Geller (born December 8, 1947) is an American astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. Her work has included pioneering maps of the nearby universe, studies of the relationship between galaxies and their environment, and the development and application of methods for measuring the distribution of matter in the universe.


Geller made pioneering maps of large-scale structure in the universe. Geller received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics at the University of California, Berkeley (1970) and a Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton (1974). Geller completed her doctoral dissertation, titled "Bright galaxies in rich clusters: a statistical model for magnitude distributions", under the supervision of James Peebles.[2] Although Geller was thinking about studying solid state physics in graduate school, Charles Kittel suggested she go to Princeton to study astrophysics.[3][4]

After research fellowships at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, England, she became an assistant professor of Astronomy at Harvard University (1980-1983). She then joined the permanent scientific staff of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, a partner in the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.

Geller is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. In 1990, she was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[5] Two years later, she was elected to the Physics section of the US National Academy of Sciences.[6] From 2000 to 2003, she served on the Council of the National Academy of Sciences. She has received seven honorary degrees (D. S. H. C. or L. H. C.).


Geller is known for observational and theoretical work in cosmology and extragalactic astronomy. Her long range goals are to discover what the universe looks like and to understand how the patterns we observe today evolved. In the 1980's, she made pioneering maps of the nearby universe,[7] which included the Great Wall[8] and was the inspiration for Jasper Johns 2020 piece called Slice.[9] Her SHELS project maps the distribution of dark matter in the universe.[10] With the 6.5-m MMT, she leads a deeper survey of the middle-aged universe called HectoMAP.[3] Geller has developed innovative techniques for investigating the structure and mass of clusters of galaxies and the relationship between clusters and their surroundings.

Geller is also a co-discoverer of hypervelocity stars which may be an important tracer of the matter distribution in the Galaxy.[11]

Films and Public Lectures[edit]

Geller has made several films for public education. Her 8-minute video Where the Galaxies Are (1989) was the first graphic voyage through the observed universe and was awarded a CINE Gold Eagle. A later 40-minute film, So Many Galaxies...So Little Time, contains more sophisticated prize-winning (IEEE/Siggraph) graphics and was on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

Geller has lectured extensively to public audiences around the world. She has lectured twice in the main amphitheater at the Chautauqua Institution.[12]

She is included in NPR's list of The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.[13]

Her story about her entry into astrophysics and meeting the renowned astrophysicist John Archibald Wheeler, entitled "Mapping the Universe" was published by The Story Collider podcast on May 21, 2014.[14]


Geller's work is discussed in Physics in the Twentieth Century.[15] Popular articles by Geller appear with those by Robert Woodrow Wilson, David Todd Wilkinson, J. Anthony Tyson and Vera Rubin in Beyond Earth: Mapping the Universe[16] and with others by Alan Lightman, Robert Kirshner, Vera Rubin, Alan Guth, and James E. Gunn in Bubbles, Voids and Bumps in Time: The New Cosmology.[17]

Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Margaret Geller". Array of Contemporary American Physicists. 2006. Archived from the original on 16 January 2015. Retrieved 6 March 2012.
  2. ^ Geller, Margaret J. (1975). Bright galaxies in rich clusters: a statistical model for magnitude distributions.
  3. ^ a b M. J. Geller, A. Diaferio, & M. J. Kurtz, Astron. J, 142, 133 (2011).
  4. ^ "History of Women in Astronomy: Margaret Geller". Retrieved 2017-07-19.
  5. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter G" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  6. ^ "NAS Online Member Directory". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  7. ^ De Lapparent, V; Geller, M. J; Huchra, J. P (1986). "A Slice of the Universe". The Astrophysical Journal. 302: L1. Bibcode:1986ApJ...302L...1D. doi:10.1086/184625.
  8. ^ M. J. Geller & J. P. Huchra, Science 246, 897 (1989).
  9. ^ Solomon, Deborah (2021-09-13). "All the World in a 'Slice' of Art". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-09-22.
  10. ^ a b c "Home | Margaret J. Geller". Retrieved 2020-01-31.
  11. ^ W. R. Brown, M. J. Geller, S. J. Kenyon, and M. J. Kurtz, Astrophys. J. Letters 622, L33 (2005).
  12. ^ "Expedition Universe & Click! The Universe". Chautauqua Institution. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  13. ^ "The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever". Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  14. ^ "Margaret Geller: Mapping the Universe". Retrieved 10 Nov 2014.
  15. ^ Suplee, Curt (1999). Physics in the Twentieth Century. Henry N. Abrams. ISBN 978-0810943643.
  16. ^ DeVorkin, David (2002). Beyond Earth: Mapping the Universe. National Geographic. ISBN 978-0792264675.
  17. ^ Cornell, James (1992). Bubbles, Voids and Bumps in Time: The New Cosmology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521426732.
  18. ^ "Margaret J. Geller". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  19. ^ "Meet the 1990 MacArthur Fellows". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  20. ^ "Helen Sawyer Hogg Lecture". Canadian Astronomical Society. Archived from the original on 15 January 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  21. ^ "Klopsteg Memorial Award". American Association of Physics Teachers. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  22. ^ "1997 Library Lion". New York Public Library. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  23. ^ "la Medaille de l'ADION". Nice Observatory. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  24. ^ "The Magellanic Premium of the American Philosophical Society". Archived from the original on 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
  25. ^ "Honorary Degree from Colby College". Archived from the original on 2014-02-21. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
  26. ^ "Grants, Prizes and Awards". American Astronomical Society. Archived from the original on 22 December 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  27. ^ "James Craig Watson Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 29 June 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  28. ^ "Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize". Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  29. ^ "Karl Schwarzschild Medal". Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
  30. ^ "Honorary Degree from Dartmouth College". Retrieved 2014-06-11.
  31. ^ "Margaret Geller, Laura Honoris Causa". Retrieved 2017-04-30.
  32. ^ "Margaret Geller, Queen of Galaxies". 2017-04-06. Retrieved 2017-04-30.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]