Virginia Trimble


Astronomy, History of Science, and Scientometrics

(949) 824-6948

Professor Trimble received her B.A. from UCLA in 1964 and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the California Institute of Technology in 1965 and 1968 respectively. She joined the UCI faculty in 1971, after a year's teaching at Smith College and two postdoctoral fellowship years at Cambridge University (M.A. 1969). She received the 1986 National Academy of Sciences Award for scientific reviewing and currently serves as Vice President of the International Astronomical Union; Vice President of the American Astronomical Society and Chair of its Historical Astronomy Division; and Member of the Executive Board of the American Physical Society and Chair-elect of its Division of Astrophysics.

As sciences age, they naturally take an increasing interest in their history, and in how they got to be the way they are (the same is probably true of scientists). Projects currently underway include (a) a history of the prediction and discovery of gravitational lensing by galaxies and stars; (b) an investigation of the gradual acceptance within the astronomical community of the existence of explosions and other very rapid change; (c) summaries of the major advances in astronomy in the past millenium, century, and year (for three different publications); and (d) an attempt to use the history of our understanding of the evolution of galaxies to forecast progress in the next decade.

As funding for scientific research has become stretched ever thinner, the sponsoring agencies have begun to ask for quantitative measures of the output from various research facilities and groups. A study of large optical telescopes showed that the two responsible for the largest quantity of research papers, and the most influential papers, were both jointly owned by astronomers from several countries and available, somewhat undemocratically, to users from only certain institutions. These are the Anglo-Australian Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. Investigations of other kinds of facilities are planned.

Understanding what stars do for a living and why requires accurate knowledge of their brightnesses and masses. A satellite called HIPPARCOS has measured distances (which imply brightnesses and masses) for the largest number of stars ever, more than 100,000. Before the data are released to the general public, the scientists who chose the stars were allowed a first look.  About two dozen astrophysically interesting stars, originally proposed from UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz, were analyzed by Trimble with U. Maryland graduate student Arunav Kundu, and showed that recognized members of unusual types, like the R Coronae Borealis variables and cataclysmic binaries, occupy a wider range of luminosities, masses, and other properties than had generally been supposed.

Representative Publications

M. Goldhaber and V. Trimble. "Limits on the Chirality of Interstellar and Intergalactic Space", Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy 17, 17-21 (1996).

V. Trimble. "Productivity and Impact of Large Optical Telescopes", Scientometrics 36, 237-246 (1996).

V. Trimble and A. Kundu.  "Parallaxes and Proper Motions of Prototypes of Astrophysically Interesting Classes of Stars", Astronomical Journal 115, 358-360 (1998).

V. Trimble and L. A. McFadden.  "Astrophysics in 1997", Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 110, 223-267 (1998).

V. Trimble.  "Astrophysical Accretion:  The Approach to the Irrationality Horizon" in S. S. Holt & T. R. Kallman eds. Accretion in Astrophysical Objects, AIP Conf. Proc. 421, 2-14 (1998).

V. Trimble and M. Aschwanden.  "Astrophysics in 1998", Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 111, 385-437 (1999).

V. Trimble.  "Beyond the Bright Searchlight of Science:  The Quest for the Edge of the World", in S. S. Holt and E. M. Smith eds. After the Dark Ages:  The Universe at z = 2-5, AIP Conf. Proc. 470, 3-12 (1999).

V. Trimble.  "Astronomical Incentives to Improve Angular Resolution:  in S. Restaino et al. eds. Catching the Perfect Wave, ASP Conf. Ser. in press (1999).

V. Trimble.  "Cosmic Discoveries", Sky and Telescope, February 1999, 32-40.

V. Trimble.  "Can't You Keep Einstein's Equations out of my Observatory?", BeamLine 29, No. 1, p 21-25 (1999).