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Upcoming Smithsonian Event: If it’s true that dogs are our best friends, how did that happen? Our December issue explored the new science of canine cognition. Now you can dig deeper with Smithsonian magazine’s live webinar featuring Vanessa Woods and Brian Hare, researchers at Duke University, who tackle that question in their new book Survival of the Friendliest. Why do dogs trust people? Why do we trust dogs? What forces were at work in the distant past to shape our attitude toward dogs—and their attitudes toward us? How can we train dogs to be even more productive companions? What do dogs and human kids have in common? And how can being more “friendly” help humans succeed in today’s world?

The Duke dog experts—also the authors of the bestselling The Genius of Dogs—will address these questions and more. The live presentation will be hosted by Smithsonian writer-at-large, Jeff MacGregor, author of our recent story about our ancient bond with dogs, who will leave plenty of time for all your canine questions.

Mark your calendars for February 10 at 7 p.m. Eastern time and buy tickets here for the online event.






(Harvard University Press)

Vera Cooper Rubin, the groundbreaking astronomer who transformed our understanding of the fundamental structure underlying the universe, was a true visionary of the 20th century. She was also a pragmatic problem-solver, further equipped with a sense of humor. Around 1970, making a return visit to conduct observations at the Palomar Observatory in southern California, Rubin decided to take action on the notorious “absence of facilities” for female astronomers. Women researchers were rarely admitted to pursue research at the legendary site. She deftly cut out a paper skirt and taped it to the male silhouette on the bathroom door: obstacle overcome.
 
Fellow astronomers Jacqueline and Simon Mitton have produced an absorbing biography, Vera Rubin: A Life (available February 11 from Harvard University Press), meshing the two strands of Rubin’s remarkable accomplishments into a page-turning account of an existence in full. First, the co-authors document a mind at work, creating an accessible and riveting record of Rubin’s insights. Ultimately, she would present data that revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos. Rubin’s research on the rotation of spiral galaxies—which she showed were enmeshed in the gravitational nexus of vast clouds of dark matter—contributed significantly to confirming, beyond doubt, the existence of dark matter, that mysterious, invisible force in the universe.
 
Second, the Mittons record the emergence of Rubin, born in 1928, who faced daunting obstacles as a pioneering woman entering a scientific career during the 1950s, as an unrelenting advocate for women in science. Until her death in 2016, she played a pivotal role as mentor to the next generation of researchers, particularly astronomers. (Her four children would earn PhDs; her daughter Judy became an astronomer as well.) The children recalled the family dining table, heaped with papers and books, as a central location in the world of ideas: Rubins of every age, whether doing homework or transforming our understanding of modern physics and astronomy, understood that deep thinking was fun.
 
“Don’t let anyone keep you down for silly reasons such as who you are,” Rubin once counseled a young astrophysicist, Rebecca Oppenheimer. “The real prize is finding something new out there.”
 
—Kathleen Burke, senior editor

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING


A recommendation from digital editorial assistant Lila Thulin:


Growing up, it was a special occasion whenever my mom took me to musicals at the theater downtown, with its marquee lights and seats upholstered in red velvet. So for Christmas, I got her a subscription to BroadwayHD, a service that's like Netflix but for filmed performances of the theatrical arts. You can watch Katharine Hepburn's star turn in the made-for-TV adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, be wowed by Audra McDonald’s belt before a live audience, choose between a revival like Miss Saigon (have Kleenex handy) or a more modern show like Kinky Boots, and be moved by a performance of Shakespeare or the Royal Ballet. My mom and I watched the 2018 staging of An American in Paris over Zoom together, and the dancing dazzled. I can’t wait to hear an overture in person again, but I’m grateful for this pandemic substitute.

 
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