Paris PISHMISH (1911-1999)


Mexican woman astronomer Pariz Pishmish stands out among Armenian Diaspora’s well-known scientists. She is one of the women astronomers who not only achieved great scientific successes but also stimulated the further activity of women astronomers and played a great role in the development of the whole Mexican astronomy.


Pariz (Paris) Pishmish was born on January 31, 1911 in Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey). Armenian by birth, her real name was Mary Sukiasian. She studied at Semertchyan local academy and American lyceum. Later becoming one of the first women attending Istanbul University, in 1933 she graduated it with splendid achievements. For the time being a student she collaborated at the Istanbul University Observatory. In 1935-1936 she professed at Central Sanasaryan lyceum of Istanbul, and then she moved to the USA.


During those years women weren’t encouraged in science, and it was too difficult to find a job at a professional observatory. At the beginning Pishmish worked as a translator, then as a support scientist at Erwin Finley-Freundlich who later helped her to attend Harvard University. Pishmish entered the Department of Sciences of Harvard University, graduated it and in 1937 she was given a doctorate of sciences on mathematics. Her supervisors were professors R. Von Mises and Finley-Freundlich. In 1939 she became an associate researcher of Harvard College Observatory and had the post till 1942. Those years played an important role in Pishmish’s formation as a professional astronomer. At Harvard College Observatory she was surrounded by inspiration of such astronomers as Harlow Shapley, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Bart Bok, Donald Menzel, Fred Whipple, as well as numerous visitor-astronomers.


In 1942 Pishmish married a Mexican student astronomer Felix Recillas. They left for Mexico and started working at the recently founded Tonantzintla Observatory of Puebla where Pishmish worked till 1946. In 1948 Pishmish moved to Mexico City where she started working at the National Observatory of Tacubaya, which formed a part of National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). She worked at UNAM for more than 50 years (at present it is known as Institute of Astronomy) where she was given a title of Honorary Astronomer in 1985 (Astronomo Emerita). In 1986 Pishmish was awarded a title of Honorary Doctor of Mexico University as well (Honoris Causa).


Pariz Pishmish’s scientific works refer to the kinematics of the Galaxy, photometry of nebulae and to the determination of radial velocities. Her main interest was the structure of the Galaxy. She made the first photometric investigations of young stellar clusters and revealed 3 globular and 20 open stellar clusters. Pishmish investigated the influence of interstellar absorption on stellar distribution observed in stellar associations. Relying on different stellar populations she tried to explain the origin and the development of spiral structure of galaxies and find the reason of vibrations of their rotation curves.


One of Pariz Pishmish’s important features was her continuous interest in new astrophysical developments. She was always interested in innovative scientific ideas and methods. Pishmish had a significant role in the implementation and use of astronomical devices. In 1972 with a purpose of investigating the field of velocities of the Galactic emission nebulae Pishmish introduced Fabry-Perot interferometry to Mexico for the first time. Using this techniques and data of the National Observatories of Tonantzintla and San Pedro Martir she investigated a number of nebulae. Later she investigated the morphology and kinematics of nuclei of galaxies of moderate activity as well.


As a result, on different subjects of astronomy Pishmish published more than 135 scientific papers, including articles in such high-ranked journals as Astronomical Journal, Astrophysical Journal, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Astrophysics and Space Science, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Astrophysics and others.


Pishmish had an active participation in editing various astronomical publications. She headed three volumes “Tacubaya Astrophotometric Catalogue” (1966), the proceedings of the conference N 33 of IAU (“Observational parameters and dynamical evolution of multiple stars”, in 1975). One of her most significant contributions was the encouragement of publication of Mexican astronomical journals. In 1966-1973 she edited “Bulletin of the Observatories of Tonantzintla and Tacubaya” (Boletin de los Observatories de Tonantzintla y Tacubaya). Since the day of foundation (1974) she also edited the main astronomical journal of Mexico “Mexican Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics” (Revista Mexicana de Astronomia y Astrofisica).


Pishmish’s pedagogical activities and his role in the development of Mexican astronomy are great. In 1955 Pariz began to profess applied astronomy which was the first programme in Mexico. During many years she was the leading power of developing new generations of astronomers. She was the head of a number of students who later became well-known astronomers: Arcadio Poveda, Eugenio Mendoza, Enrique Chavira, Debora Dultzin, Alfonso Serrano, Alejandro Ruelas, Marco Moreno and others. For the perennial lecturing work and training of young astronomers UNAM awarded Pishmish a Science Teaching Prize. The other feature she had was the positive noticeable influence on all the people who surrounded her at the Institute of Astronomy; both her colleagues and her students. She played a great role for young women and she was an example of devotion to the science. As a result, at present the considerable fraction (25%) of 80 astronomers of the institute are women.


Pishmish was a member of a number of professional organizations and societies: American Astronomical Society, Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain, Academy of Sciences of Mexico, Mexican Physical Society and International Astronomical Union (IAU) where she was a member of commissions N 28, 33 and 34.


In 1998 Pishmish published her memories in the book “Memories from woman astronomer Pariz Pishmish’s life”.


Pariz Pishmish, the favorite teacher and the friend of all Mexican astronomers, passed away on August 1, 1999. Not only Mexican and Armenian astronomers, but his colleagues and collaborators of the entire world will remember her. At present Pariz Pishmish’s daughter, also astronomer Elsa Recillas-Pishmish works at the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics of Mexico (INAOE, Puebla).