There is no joy greater than that of coming upon a fact that cannot be understood in terms of currently accepted ideas
Cecilia Payne was an English astronomer who discovered what the universe was made of. After attending Cambridge University, she left to pursue an advanced degree in the United States in part because Cambridge did not offer one to women. She was the first person ever to be awarded a PhD in astronomy from Radcliffe College with a thesis in which she described what the stars are made of. In 1960, the distinguished astronomer Otto Struve referred to this work as “the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy”.
Cecilia became the first full Professor and the first female chair in astronomy at Harvard. She was awarded the prestigious Henry Norris Russell Prize by the American Astronomical Society in 1977, an award that had never before been available to women.
Born 1900, United Kingdom; Died 1979, USA
- American Museum of Natural History, https://www.amnh.org/learn-teach/curriculum-collections/cosmic-horizons-book/cecilia-payne-profile
- Fabbiano, “The woman who explained the stars”, Nature 578, 509-510, 2020
- Moore, “What Stars Are Made Of: The Life of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin”, 2020