Date: July 3, 2010

Title: The Legacy of Paris Pismis


Podcaster: Edgardo Molina

Organization: Pleiades. Research and Astronomical Studies A.C. – (web site soon to be presented also in English)

Description: Who is Paris Pismis? She is the mother of mexican formal astronomy. A woman with the courage to face the difficulties of her epoch regarding her genre to pursue a higher education and to earn a place in modern astronomy and astrophysics.

Paris Pismis has been a role model for female astronomers in Mexico and an example to follow for generations of astronomers in Mexico and abroad who feel inspired by her talents, knowledge and legacy.

Bio: Edgardo Molina. B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Anahuac University in Mexico City. Post graduate studies in IT Engineering and a Masters Degree in IT Engineering. Working for IPTEL, an IT firm delivering solutions to enterprises since 1998. Space exploration enthusiast who participated in several Mexican space related activities. Licensed amateur radio operator with call sign XE1XUS. Amateur astronomer since childhood and actual founder and president of the Pleiades. Research and Astronomical Studies A.C. in Mexico City, Mexico. Avid visual observer and astrophotography fan. Public reach through education in exact sciences, engineering and astronomy. Lectures and teaching in several universities since 1993.

Today’s sponsor: “Between the Hayabusa homecoming from Itokawa and the Rosetta flyby of asteroid Lutetia, 13 June until 10 July 2010, this episode of 365 Days of Astronomy is sponsored anonymously and dedicated to the memory of Annie Cameron, designer of the Tryphena Sun Wheel, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand, a project that remains to be started.”


Hi! This is Edgardo Molina, from Pleiades. Research and Astronomical Studies in Mexico City, Mexico. I am hosting you today for this episode of the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. +

Today I feel honored to pay tribute to a great woman. Paris Pismis. But who is she?

Paris Maria Pismis was born in 1911 in Turkey, at the home of an armenian family. She struggled all of their life to pursue a degree in sciences at the turkish faculty of sciences in Istanbul. In fact she was only one of a few women who made it all the way to earn that degree. She flourished in the city of Constantino and not happy with that goal just reached, she had the idea of a PhD and gets it in 1937. Meanwhile she worked as an assistant to the Observatory at the University of Istanbul. She also was fluent in french, english and german, that helped her throughout her work and also earned a reputation as a translator.

Her mentor the astrophysicist Erwin Freundich with a german origin and who fled from the Nazis, was enchanted by Paris talents and encourages her to visit the USA as a student at Hardvard University in 1938. Next year she works as an assistant to the Harvard College Observatory, where she mets Harlow Shapley, Donald Menzel Bart Bok among others. She cultivated a strong friendship with them and they helped her with her goals.

It was 1940 when a young mexican mathematician called Felix Recillas arrived at Harvard to do formal studies in astronomy. He was part of the initiatives of Joaquín Gallo and Luis Enrique Erro to form astronomers for Mexico. Both of them were engineers with a great entusiasm for astronomy but none of them held a formal background in that area. Paris Pismis taught german to Felix Recillas, both fell in love and got married in 1941. At that time the new mexican observatory at Tonanzintla Puebla was opened in 1942. A lot of high end astronomical personalities came from abroad to celebrate a congress there. Among them Felix Recillas and her new spouse Paris Pismis also attended. This event was the spark to also give birth to the Physics and Mathematics Institutes at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Later those insitutes would help with the foundation of the Geophysics Institute also at the university. The university hired Paris as an astronomer of the newborn Tonantintla observatory.

At that time there were no formal astronomers in Mexico, Guillermo Haro himself was a graduate lawyer with great astronomical talents but no formal education on it. Paris Pismis was the first astronomer with a formal education in Mexico. During her stay at Tonanzintla, Paris gave birth to two sons. Elsa and Sevin, both excellent mexican scientists. Afterwards whe worked at Princeton and Yerkes. Back in Mexico in 1948 she started teaching formal astronomy and her teaching work expanded for over 50 years. Among her taste for music and flowers she knew how to inspire a lot of youngsters pursuing a formal degree as astronomers in Mexico. She was always devoted to science and transmitted her knowledge and feelings to her students.

If you ever take a look at souther skies and notice your sky map has various objects named Pismis, now you know who catalogued them. Paris Pismis discovered around 20 objects in the southern hemisphere skies. She carefully observed, classified and catalogued them into what is today known as the Pismis catalogue. Some of these objects bear her name and also the name of the Tonanzintla observatory. Please kindly google for that information.

If you enter the Nasa archives at the Astrophysics Data System you will find after querying that around 120 documents are related to “Pismis”, where she is author or co-author. Of special mention is her work titled “New stellar clusters in the south region” published about 1959. Paris Pismis published a large number of papers regarding stellar clusters, open and globular, she proposed an explanation for the spiral galaxy structures and spent most of her life studying stellar dynamics. She taught several subjects like galactical astronomy, her work for the kinematics of ionized nebulae was recognized worldwide. She introduced an observational technique called Fabry-Perot interferometry and during the 90’s se became interested in moderately active galaxies.

She founded and coordinated for several years the workgroup of the International Astronomical Union regarding galaxy dynamics. and headed the mexican delegations in all the general assemblies of the IaU since 1958 through 1994. She was named emeritus researcher at the Astronomy Institute in Mexico, also gained the Honoris Causa PhD from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She was also awarded by the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics in Mexico. She was part of the Royal Astronomical Society and the American Astronomical Society.

Finally, Paris Pismis sadly left us in 1999. There is a book with all the details of her life and work titled: “Rememberances in the Life of Paris Pismis: A Woman Astronomer”.
She also recently was considered a figure for the “She Is an Astronomer Project” for the International Year of Astronomy 2009.

For the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast, this is Edgardo Molina, from Pleiades. Research and Astronomical studies in Mexico City, Mexico. Wishing you all clear skies! Thank you for listening.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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