Concept

Sarah Frances Whiting

Summary
Sarah Frances Whiting (August 23, 1847 – September 12, 1927) was an American physicist and astronomer. She was one of the founders and the first director of the Whitin Observatory at Wellesley College. She instructed several notable astronomers and physicists, including Annie Jump Cannon. Whiting was interested from an early age in science by her father, who taught natural philosophy. Whiting graduated from Ingham University in 1865, after which she taught at a girls' secondary school in Brooklyn. Whiting was appointed by Wellesley College president Henry Fowle Durant, one year after the College's 1875 opening, as its first professor of physics. She established its physics department and the undergraduate experimental physics lab at Wellesley, the second of its kind to be started in the country. At the request of Durant, she attended lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology given by Edward Charles Pickering. Through attending Pickering's classes, Whiting observed the techniques of teaching science through laboratory work, which was then new to the United States. Whiting adopted this pedagogy for her own classes, and so established the second undergraduate physics laboratory in the United States, after MIT. Pickering also invited Whiting to observe some of the new techniques being applied to astronomy, such as spectroscopy. In 1880, Whiting started teaching a course of practical astronomy at Wellesley. In February 1896, only a few weeks after the public announcement of the discovery of x-rays, Whiting conducted x-ray experiments with her students and other physics professors. She was among the first in the United States and likely the first woman to successfully replicate Wilhelm Röntgen's x-rays. As told by biographer and former student Annie Jump Cannon, An especially exciting moment came when the Boston morning papers reported the discovery of the Rontgen or X-rays in 1895.
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