As a folk singer, songwriter, science writer and sometime actor, veteran American immigrant Sandy Cash often brings all her worlds together, but one of her most recent songs offered a particular stellar connection.
The song, “More than Meets the Eye,” tells the story of Jewish astrophysicist Vera Rubin, who overcame anti-female bias to become one of the world’s most influential astronomers.
“During her lifetime, Vera won every prize in the book — including one from the Weizmann Institute of Science, where I work,” said Cash.
Cash, a science writer at the Weizmann Institute, was inspired to write the tune about Rubin when she went to interview an institute astronomer about his efforts to detect dark matter.
“He said that Vera Rubin was the one to look at the sky and see that something was missing and that something else was holding stars together,” said Cash.
Rubin’s story was one of perseverance and dedication; she consistently fought against sexism in order to continue her studies and research, ultimately making major discoveries in the world of astronomy.
Cash made the song the title track to her latest album of the same name.
It’s a song that tells Rubin’s story, as well as translating the complex concepts into something that people can understand, a particular knack of Cash’s as a songwriter and science writer.
“I look for science topics that have human drama,” said Cash, “then it reaches peoples’ hearts.”
Cash then sent the song to folk singer Christine Lavin, a favorite performer for Cash and a role model as well, for Lavin’s lyrics and style have long inspired Cash as a folk singer.
The email that Cash sent wasn’t a blind stab in the dark, however.
Cash has listened and sung Lavin’s songs for years, ever since her first folk club performance in 1986 in Tel Aviv, when she sang one of Lavin’s songs.
But she also spent some time with Lavin a few years ago when the singer came to Israel to perform at the Jacob’s Ladder winter festival.
At the end of the weekend, the festival organizer asked Cash to put Lavin up for the night, before she went to the airport the next day.
The two jammed together in Cash’s living room, bonding over their joint interests in music and popular science.
A few years later, when Cash wrote the Vera song, she thought of Lavin, a fellow popular lover of science who has also written about astrophysics.
“I knew that this was up her alley,” said Cash.
She was right. Lavin decided to help Cash make a video, and sent the song around as well.
“When a singer/songwriter like Sandy Cash puts her talents to work shining a spotlight on someone deserving like Vera Rubin, the ripple effect is very positive and ripples for a very long time,” wrote Christine Lavin in an email to The Times of Israel. “I’m sure years from now some budding scientist will remember it as one of the reasons why he or she got interested in Astronomy in the first place.”
Lavin has her own lifelong love of astrophysics, recounted in several songs of her own (consider “Planet X”), and beloved by scientists such as famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The famed folk singer said that Cash’s music “was so good” and the subject — women in science — so important, that Lavin had to help put the song into visual terms, in other words, the video.
Cash said she couldn’t be more thankful.
“The video keeps people engaged as if it were a performance,” said Cash. “It’s so much harder these days when we don’t have performances; it’s just hard to know if you’re reaching people.”
There was more. Another scientist at the Weizmann Institute heard the song and told Cash that, serendipitously, the most advanced telescope observatory in the world was just renamed the Vera Rubin Observatory.
Cash sent her song to the observatory and a few weeks later received an email from Zan Rubin, Vera Rubin’s grandson.
“Songs just travel,” she said. “The song business has changed, we don’t sell songs anymore and you can’t have concerts so my goal is to get my songs into as many hands as possible.”