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Winter 1998
Rising Star
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There's something of an Indiana Jones mien about her in her alfalfa-colored trousers, black monkey boots and athlete's grin. Put a wide-brimmed hat on her head and a bullwhip in her hand, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine her chasing precious jewels among the ruins of some ancient lost temple rather than jewels in the sky.

There are no star maps on the walls of her cramped office. Its most defining touches are a red velvet couch and a Robert Mappelthorpe photograph of bodybuilder Lisa Lyon in a futuristic choir gown. On her door is taped a fortune -- "The night life is for you" -- along with cartoons and photographs. Working at the telescope, she favors classical music for those moments when her concentration must be at its keenest, and loud, pulsing rock for the wee hours when it's tough to keep one's eyes open. In conversation, her words tend to streak forth like shooting stars. But her rapid-fire delivery does not trouble her students; for them, her lectures convey a palpable excitement and they are engaged by her and enraptured by the science. Many say her's is the best class they have.

And there is more to her than just science. She firmly believes in her role as a mentor. "Science was always something I was good at, and I was fortunate to be in an environment where this wasn=t discouraged," she says. "In my studies, I've made very conscious decisions about who I work with. That's advice I always give to undergrads. I feel strongly about the importance of mentorship roles."

She took that ethic a step further when, in 1995, she published, with Judith Cohen and illustrator David Katz, a picture book, You Can Be a Woman Astronomer (also available on CD-ROM). The book, which received a glowing review and strong recommendation from the School Library Journal, lets girls 9 to 12 know that if they, like Ghez, love to solve crosswords, work jigsaw puzzles or fiddle with Rubik's Cubes -- in other words, if they are solution oriented -- they, too, can aspire to achievements at the pinnacle of science.

Her message obviously strikes home with many girls. Ghez's favorite picture taped to her door is of a young girl, maybe 10 years old, with a pretty smile and a blue denim hat to which a big yellow flower is pinned. She is standing in front of a science-project display about telescopes and is holding a copy of Ghez's book in her small hands. Next to the picture is a note, illustrated with luminous stars and planets, from the child: "Dear Prof. Ghez. Thank you for letting me ask you questions about your job. I hope one day there is a planet or star with your name."

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