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Erika Böhm-Vitense was born Erika Helga Ruth Vitense on June 3, 1923 in Kurau (now Stockelsdorf), Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

She began her undergraduate studies at University of Tübingen, but moved to Kiel University in 1945 for its stronger astronomy department. After completing her undergraduate degree in 1948, she stayed on for graduate studies. Not only did she complete her doctorate degree three years later, but she was also awarded the university's prize for the best Ph.D. thesis. She then stayed at Kiel as a research associate, Two years after receiving her Ph.D., she published The hydrogen convection zone of the Sun. This is one of her most famous works as it has been cited at least 287 times since its publication.

In 1954 she married fellow student Karl-Heinz Böhm and afterwards was known as Erika Böhm-Vitense. The pair visited Lick Observatory and the University of California, Berkeley for a year. Upon their return to Kiel, her husband, who was also an astrophysicist, was given a tenure track position, but she was not. The same situation applied when they went to Heidelberg.

In 1968, they went to the University of Washington in Seattle where Erika started as Senior Research Associate. She was later awarded a full-time professor position in 1971, eventually becoming a professor emeritus.
 
During her time at the University of Washington, she made fundamental contributions to the understanding of Cepheid variable stars, stellar binaries, stellar temperatures, chromospheric activity, rotation, and convection. She has over 300 academic papers on the Harvard Astrophysics Data System, of which she is the first author on more than two-thirds of these publications.

Erika was also awarded the Annie Jump Cannon Prize from the American Astronomical Society in 1965, and the Karl Schwarzschild Medal from the Astronomische Gesellschaft in 2003. The latter is most prestigious prize in Germany in the field of astronomy and astrophysics.

Erika Böhm-Vitense continued to live in Seattle until her death in 2017 at the age of 93.


Mona Evans
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