Chicago Astronomy Degree Recipients
Alumnus of the Day: Nancy G. Roman, 1949
Nancy G. Roman
Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1949
Nancy Grace Roman (born May 16, 1925) is an American astronomer who was one of the first female executives at NASA. She is known to many as the "Mother of Hubble" for her role in planning the Hubble Space Telescope. Throughout her career, Roman has also been an active public speaker and educator, and an advocate for women in the sciences.
Roman attended Swarthmore College in 1946 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Astronomy. While she studied there, she worked at the Sproul Observatory. After this she went on to receive her PhD in the same field at the University of Chicago in 1949. She stayed at the university for six more years working at the Yerkes Observatory, sometimes traveling to the McDonald Observatory in Texas to work as a research associate with W.W. Morgan. Whilst working at Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago, Roman observed the star AG Draconis and serendipitously discovered that its emission spectrum had completely changed since earlier observations. She later credited the publication of that discovery as a stroke of luck that substantially raised her profile within the astronomical community, contributing to her career progression.
After leaving the University of Chicago, Roman went to the Naval Research Laboratory and entered the radio astronomy program. Roman's work at the NRL included using nonthermal radio source spectra and doing geodetic work. In the program she became the head of the microwave spectroscopy section.
Roman was the first Chief of Astronomy in NASA's Office of Space Science, setting up the initial program; she was the first woman to hold an executive position at the space agency. Part of her job was traveling the country and speaking at astronomy departments, where she discussed the fact that the program was in development. Roman also was looking to find out what other astronomers wanted and educate them on the advantages of observing from space. She was chief of astronomy and solar physics at NASA from 1961 to 1963. She held various other positions in NASA, including Chief of Astronomy and Relativity.