Friday , July 23 2021

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the woman who discovered what made stars (and the challenge of machismo in science)

He was only 25, when he came to the conclusion that all the ways would change how we see the Universe.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was one of the great astronomers in & # 39; e history and the first to determine which stars they have composed.

However, his career was never easy and he had to resist the prejudices of a time that was not even awarded a university diploma to a woman.

"Ladies Harvard Computer"

Payne-Gaposchkin was born in 1900 in England.

In & # 39; a start of & # 39; In the 1920s Payne told his study in Physics and Chemistry at the University of Michigan University of Cambridge, university they deliver the presence of women at the same time, but without giving them an official title.

But that didn't stop her. Looking for her career in astronomy, she decided to study in & # 39; a united states, where they believe they have more chances as a woman.

In 1923 he arrived Harvard College Observatory.


Between 1885 and 1927, the Observator used about 80 women to study glass photos of their stars. They became known as Harvard "computer" women and made great astronomical discoveries.

They discovered galaxies and nebulae, and made methods to measure distances in space.

A revolutionary discovery

While Payne worked at the Observatory, he uses the latest learning from quantum physics to come up with a revolutionary discovery: determine the composition of & # 39; the stars.

During the study for his doctorate, which he received in 1925, the astronomer came to the conclusion that the stars are their composition water and helium.

However, the conclusion was discussed, and even known in his time – although it was later proved.

The consequence of a conflict with the belief in that time that the stars have a chemical composition similar to that of the earth.

That's why the famous astronomer is Henry Norris Russell He recommends that he remove the idea of ​​his dissertation, that the results were "clearly impossible".

In 1929 Russell even died that Payne was right.

Astronomers Otto Struve and Velta Zebergs have evaluated his dissertation "the lightest always written in the astronomy".

The script was later published as a book: "Stellar atmospheres! "

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

The career at Harvard

Despite this, Payne had a hard time in Harvard.

Between 1927 and 1938, he was a technical assistant to Harlow Shapley's director, but was not given an official position.

"This was because of the misogynistic views of Harvard President Abbott Lowell, who refused to call them and swore he would never be promoted to a Harvard chair while he was alive," wrote Amy Davy, curator of the London Science Museum. .

In 1938, with another president, they gave them an official position, although no professor.

At the end, it was in & # 39; the second half of & # 39; In the 1950s, they did not teach and in first woman to hold a department in Harvard, the Astronomy. He took in 1966.

"Despite his success, Payne was even less paid than his male equivalents at Harvard, a money-reporting problem that exists daily," Davy says.

"Her career is a prominent reminder that the reason why there are no more women scientists in history was not due to lack of talent or passion, but to systematic misogynism of society," the curator.

"Cecilia Payne's work was undeniably important to our understanding of stars and astronomy, but for their gender they had to work hard to fight for the recognition they deserve."

Payne herself describes her as "a rebel against a female role" and explained that his true uprising "was against thoughts and treated as less."

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

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