Like her colleague Alenoush Terian in Iran, Paris Marie Pishmish played an instrumental role to establish the study of modern astronomy in Mexico.
was born Marie Soukiassian in Constantinople on January 30, 1911. Her
father Soukias was the grandson of Mikayel Pishmish, a member of the amira class
that had an important role as the Armenian commercial and professional
elite in the Ottoman Empire, who was Minister of Finance under Sultan
Abdul-Aziz (1861-1876), and her mother Filomen was the niece of Mateos
Izmirlian, Patriarch of Constantinople (1894-1896) and Catholicos of All
Armenians (1908-1910). The high society environment where she was
raised put high priority in education.
first attended an Armenian elementary school and continued on to the
Üsküdar American Academy for Girls, an elite private school in
Constantinople, where she discovered her interest in mathematics.
Pishmish became one of the first women to graduate in Mathematics and
Classical Astronomy from the Science School of Istanbul University in
taught mathematics and astronomy at the Getronagan High School in
Istanbul, and worked as an assistant at the Observatory throughout her
doctoral program in astronomy. She received her doctorate in 1937. Her
advisor, the noted German astronomer Erwin Freundlich, arranged a
postdoctoral fellowship for her at Harvard in 1938. After the beginning
of World War II, she became an assistant astronomer at Harvard College
Observatory (HCO), a position she held from 1939 to 1942. She also met
Felix Recillas, a Mexican student of mathematics sent to study
astronomy, whom she married in 1941. Mexico was building a modern
astronomical observatory in Tonantzintla, near Puebla, inaugurated in
1942 with an international congress. Felix and Paris Pishmish-Recillas
also attended. The thirty-one-year-old Armenian scientist, the first
professional astronomer that Mexico had, was hired to work at the
observatory, where she worked until 1946.
had two children, Elsa Recillas Pishmish (an astrophysicist) and Sevin
Recillas Pishmish (a mathematician, 1943-2005), and spent two years with
internships in Princeton and in Chicago. In 1948 Pishmish accepted a
position as an astronomer at the Tacubaya National Observatory,
affiliated with the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico
City, where she taught for over fifty years. The astrophysics program
that she founded in 1955 has remained in place at the National
Autonomous University of Mexico and her critical role in enriching the
field of astronomy has helped to fashion Mexico into a center for
was involved in all stages of the development of astronomical studies
in Mexico, from writing the first modern astronomy and astrophysics
curricula to acquiring the best, state-of-the-art technology. She was
also devoted to teaching and training new generations of scientists,
some of whom went on to make great contributions to astronomy and other
scientific disciplines. The university recognized her efforts with the
award of a Ph.D. honoris causa and the Science Teaching Prize.
of her most notable accomplishments are in her research. Over the
course of her career, she wrote over 120 scientific articles on various
aspects of astrophysics and the study of galaxies. Twenty-two stellar
clusters bear her name.
She also fostered the publication of Mexican astronomical journals. From 1966 to 1973 she edited Boletín de los Observatorios de Tonantzintla y Tacubaya. She was also founding editor of Revista Mexicana de Astronomía y Astrofísica since its inception in 1974.
was also an active member of the International Astronomic Union, and
headed the Mexican delegation to all its general assemblies from 1958 to
1994. Her career was also marked by research trips, conferences and
visiting professorships at universities and research institutions around
the world, including the Byurakan Observatory in Armenia, where she was
invited by the eminent Soviet Armenian astronomer Viktor Hambardzumyan.
In her memoir, Reminiscences in the Life of Paris Pişmiş: A Woman Astronomer (1998,
co-written with her grandson Gabriel Cruz González), she recounted with
particular enthusiasm her visits to Armenia where she delighted in
being able to communicate in her native language.
Paris Pishmish passed away on August 1, 1999. Her positive influence
turned her into an effective role model, especially for young women. At
the time of her death, 25 per cent of the eighty astronomers working at
the Astronomy Institute of the National Autonomous University were