Beatrice Tinsley

Beatrice Tinsley, August 1976
Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives,
John Irwin Slide Collection

Low res image used with permission

Occupation: Professor of Astronomy

Year born: 1941

Research Areas: Galaxies' Evolution, Cosmology


"I never mind spending time [with students] if they really want to learn astronomy or exchange ideas."

Source: The letters of Beatrice Hill Tinsley: 1979-1980


Early Life

Beatrice was born in Chester, UK, but her family moved to New Zealand after World War II. Beatrice won a scholarship to study at Canterbury University where she got a degree in physics.

After she finished her degree, Beatrice's husband started a job in Dallas in the USA. Beatrice also moved to Dallas, but the college would not allow her to work there with her husband. Instead, she took a part-time teaching job at the University of Texas in Austin, about 200 miles away. Aged 23, Beatrice started a PhD in astronomy research. She completed her PhD 2 years later, which is a third of the time it takes most people in the USA to get a PhD.

Career Highlights

Beatrice wanted to know how different groups of stars age. She thought about how that might affect what a galaxy looked like. Her work made her a world-leading expert on how galaxies change over time. It also supported the idea that the Universe would expand forever. This contradicted the idea of a big crunch

Before Beatrice, astronomers thought that galaxies of the same type would have lots in common. They would be a similar size, shape, and brightness. Scientists used this assumption to work out the distance to galaxies. Beatrice showed that other information was needed as well. This included how much of each chemical element was in the galaxy, the mass of the galaxy, and how many stars were forming in a given amount of time.

Beatrice's research was so important that she received the Annie J. Cannon Award. Despite her achievements, the colleges in Texas would not take her seriously. Aged 33, Beatrice moved to Yale and 4 years' later became a Professor of Astronomy there. Beatrice worked at Yale until her death, aged 40. In that short time, she wrote over 100 scientific papers.


The Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize, for outstanding creative contributions to astronomy or astrophysics was named in her honour. It is the only major award from a scientific society which is named after a female scientist. There is also an asteroid named after Beatrice.

Other Interests

Beatrice loved music and played in orchestras. She was not afraid to speak her mind and questioned everything.