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Smithsonian Videohistory Collection

Margaret G. Geller
(RU 9546) Restricted


Margaret J. Geller, professor of astrophysics, Harvard University, and astrophysicist, Smithsonian-Harvard Center for Astrophysics, was universally regarded for her revolutionary work on the large-scale structure of the universe. The discovery by Geller, John Huchra and Valerie de Lapparent of the bubble structure of galaxies was arguably among the most important work in late twentieth century astronomy.

Geller received her A.B. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1970. In 1972 she completed her M.A., followed by a Ph.D in physics in 1975, both from Princeton University. Her professional experience included a research fellowship in theoretical astrophysics at the Center for Astrophysics, 1974-1976. She was a senior visiting fellow at the Institute for Astronomy in Cambridge, England, 1978-1980, and a research associate at the Harvard Observatory (HCO), 1978-1980. She has taught astrophysics and astronomy at Harvard University since 1980, and reached the rank of full professor in 1988. In July, 1990, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. She conducted research at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) on the nature and history of galaxy distribution, the origin and evolution of galaxies, and x-ray astronomy. She has published prolifically in these areas. Her long-range research goals include the development of a coherent picture of the formation and evolution of clusters of galaxies, and the relationship between individual clusters and the cluster environment.

In Session One, Matthew Schneps, co-director of the Wolbach Image Processing Laboratory at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, interviewed Geller about her personal and family history and the early influences on her life and work as a student and scientist. Schneps also touched on Geller's research on the structure of the universe. The interview took place on February 5, 1989, at Margaret Geller's home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Schneps's intention was to examine the personal, social, political and psychological forces that determined the direction of Geller's scientific research. In Session Two, David DeVorkin, curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (NASM), focused on Geller's scientific interests and activities, including publications, major collaborations and specific research projects. DeVorkin's goal was to gain a greater sense of Geller's extensive contributions to the field of astronomy. The second session was conducted at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts, first in Margaret Geller's office and later in the image processing laboratory, where DeVorkin and Geller were joined by visiting professors Emilio Falco and Massismo Ramella. The interview took place on July 16, 1990, shortly after Geller was notified about winning the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Video Sessions

This collection consists of two interview sessions, totalling approximately 7:00 hours of recordings, and 199 pages of transcript. There are three generations of tape for each session: originals, dubbing masters, and reference copies. In total, this collection is comprised of 21 original videotapes (21 Beta videotapes), 7 dubbing master videotapes (7 U-Matic videotapes), and 4 reference copy videotapes (4 VHS videotapes).

Session One (February 5, 1989), at the home of Margaret Geller, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Matthew Schneps provided a personal perspective on the career of Margaret Geller, with emphasis on her formative years, early influences and interest in science, and her personal struggles and development, c. 1948-1990, including:

  • reminiscences of her education at the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University;
  • post-doctoral work at the Center for Astrophysics;
  • discussion of the issues faced by women in the sciences;
  • the development of a personal style and methodology for scientific research;
  • present research in the redshift survey, galaxy distribution, and the structure of the universe.

Original Masters: 9 Beta videotapes
Dubbing Masters: 3 U-Matic videotapes
Reference Copies: 2 VHS videotapes
Transcript: 74 pages

Session Two (July 16, 1990), consisted of interviews with Margaret Geller by David DeVorkin in two locations at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Geller's office and the image processing laboratory. Emilio Falco and Massimo Ramella are featured in the interview at the laboratory. The session documented Geller's scientific and professional activities, c. 1970-1990, including:

  • announcement of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and plans for using the award; telephone interviews with reporters from local radio stations and newspapers;
  • decision to concentrate in astrophysics;
  • Statistical Virial Theorem project;
  • collaborations with James Peebles and John Huchra; major publications;
  • research on first rank galaxies, luminosity function, and standard candles;
  • decision to join Harvard University faculty;
  • redshift surveys of galaxies and the bubble theory of galaxy distribution;
  • Geller's unique scientific style and approach to research;
  • observations about national and international trends and issues in astronomy and membership on various committees;
  • efforts to make scientific concepts accessible to the general public.

Visual documentation included:

  • map of a slice of the universe, including the Coma Cluster;
  • computer images of clusters of galaxies in image processing room.

Original Masters: 12 Beta videotapes
Dubbing Masters: 4 U-Matic videotapes
Reference Copies: 2 VHS videotapes
Transcript: 125 pages
4 hours

Restrictions: Margaret Geller retains copyright to the video and audio tapes and transcripts until February 5, 1999. Until then, scholars may view and listen to the tapes, but must apply to Margaret Geller for permission to use the materials in any way for public presentation or publication. No copies of the video and audio tapes may be made.


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