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Tue, 07.15.1969

Beth Brown, Astrophysicist born

Dr. Beth Brown

*Beth A. Brown was born on this date in 1969. She was a Black Astrophysicist.

From Roanoke, VA. her early years were spent with her parents, younger brother, and older cousin. In elementary school and junior high, she participated in science fairs working on projects that had nothing to do with astronomy.  She liked science because she was always curious about how something worked and why something existed.  Space fascinated her. She grew up watching Star Trek, Star Wars, and other shows/movies about outer space. In high school, she took some Advanced Placement classes and was in the marching and concert bands.  Brown started taking a physics course, but quit early on because she felt like she wasn't learning anything. She graduated from high school as class valedictorian.  Science still fascinated her, and she was interested in anything that had to do with outer space.  She thought that actually being out in space would be the coolest thing possible, and so decided she wanted to become an astronaut.

Next for Brown came Howard University in Washington, DC. She began studying physics and a little astronomy while participating in the "Showtime" marching band.  While at Howard, Brown was able to do a couple of summer internships at the Goddard Space Flight Center, gaining experience in doing research. One of her professors learning of her desire to be an astronaut made her research about what it takes to become an astronaut and what it is like to be in space.

She discovered that her near-sighted vision would hurt her chances of being an astronaut.  Brown also discovered that being in cramped quarters didn't sound that appealing to her.  Her love of astronomy continued, however.  She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Howard, receiving a BS in Astrophysics in 1991, and remained at there for another year in the physics graduate program.

At that point, she then attended the University of Michigan, entering the doctoral program in the Department of Astronomy. While there, Brown was extremely active, teaching some labs, co-creating a short course on astronomy, observing at the Kitt Peak National Observatory (in Arizona), presenting at several conferences, and working at a science museum that had a planetarium.  Along with all her activities, she managed to receive a Master's degree in Astronomy in 1994, then go on to finish her thesis (on elliptical galaxies).  On December 20, 1998, she received her PhD., the first Black woman to obtain a doctorate in astronomy from the Department of Astronomy at the University of Michigan.

After receiving her doctorate, Dr. Brown returned to Goddard as a National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council post-doctoral research associate. In that position, she continued her thesis work on X-ray emission from galaxies. When the post-doc position ended, she became an employee of Goddard, where she is an astrophysicist. She works within the center's National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC), which is a part of the Space Science Data Operations Office. Dr. Beth A. Brown's job consists of three main parts data acquisition, research, and outreach.

As a data acquisition scientist, she has responsibilities for the astrophysics data that the NSSDC holds. She is the person who acts as a bridge between the NSSDC's astrophysics archive and other science archive research centers. Her research is on the environment of elliptical galaxies, many of which shine brightly in the X-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum. This means that there is very hot (about 10 million degrees) material in these galaxies. For this work, she used data from the ROSAT X-ray satellite and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which is the most sophisticated X-ray observatory built to date.

She loved to do things involving educational outreach. One of the outreach projects she worked on, with several people, was the Multi-Wavelength Milky Way project. This is an effort to make data on our home galaxy accessible to educators, students, and the general public. For the project, she works on web pages, and also appears in the Milky Way video. Dr. Beth Brown died on October 5, 2008.

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