Rebecca Anne Elson (1960-1999) was a Canadian-British astronomer and writer. She was born in MontrÃ©al, and as a child often traveled Canada with her father as he performed field research as a geologist. She later earned a bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College, a master's degree from the University of British Columbia, and went to Cambridge University where she received a Ph.D. in astronomy. She went on to research positions at Princeton University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and a position teaching creative writing at Harvard, before returning to Cambridge to accept a position she would hold for the remainder of her life. Her research centered on globular clusters, dark matter, galaxies, and cosmology.
Elson was diagnosed with cancer in her early 30's. With treatment, it went into remission. Afterward, in 1996, she married Angelo di Cintio, an Italian artist. However, the cancer returned soon thereafter. She died of the disease in Cambridge in May 1999, at the age of 39.
A volume of wide-ranging poetry and essays she wrote from her teens until shortly before her death was published posthumously as "A Responsibility to Awe: Poems" in 2001 in the UK, and in 2002 in the U.S.. The works were selected by her husband, Mr. di Cintio, and a friend and fellow poet, Anne Berkeley, from a much larger body of unpublished efforts. Some of the works refer to vast concepts of physics and astronomy, often in unexpectedly abstract or playful ways, to reflect aspects of human experience. Others reflect profound joy with life or poignant observations of her impending early death. "A Responsibility to Awe" was selected as one of the best books of the year by The Economist, and the reviewer for the British newspaper The Independent called it "a wise and haunting volume, which I can't recommend too warmly."