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Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
A woman in a white dress stands in front of a stone university building and looks down and to one side.
Born (1900-05-10)May 10, 1900
Died December 7, 1979(1979-12-07) (aged 79)
Citizenship British, American (from 1931)
Education St Paul's Girls' School
Alma mater Newnham College, Cambridge, Radcliffe College (Harvard College Observatory)
Known for Explanation of spectra of Sun, more than 3,000,000 observations of variable stars
Awards Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy (1934), Rittenhouse Medal (1961), Award of Merit from Radcliffe College (1952), Henry Norris Russell Prize (1976)
Scientific career
Fields Astronomy, Astrophysics
Institutions Harvard College Observatory, Harvard University
Doctoral advisor Harlow Shapley, Arthur Eddington
Doctoral students Helen Sawyer Hogg, Joseph Ashbrook, Frank Kameny, Frank Drake, Paul W. Hodge
Signature
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin02b.jpg

Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin (May 10, 1900 – December 7, 1979) was a British–American astronomer and astrophysicist who, in 1925, proposed in her Ph.D. thesis an explanation for the composition of stars in terms of the relative abundances of hydrogen and helium.

Early life

Payne was born in Wendover, England. In 1919, she won a scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge University. She studied botany, physics, and chemistry. She was not given a degree because women were not given degrees by Cambridge until 1948. In 1923 she moved to the United States. She became an American citizen in 1931.

Personal life

In 1933, she met Russian-born astrophysicist Sergei I. Gaposchkin in Germany. She married him in 1934.

Influence on women scientists

Cecilia Helena Payne Gaposchkin (1900-1979) (3)
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin at work

According to G. Kass-Simon and Patricia Farnes, Payne's career marked a turning point at Harvard College Observatory. Under the direction of Harlow Shapley and Dr E. J. Sheridan (whom Payne-Gaposchkin described as a mentor), the observatory had already offered more opportunities in astronomy to women than did other institutions, and notable achievements had been made earlier in the century by Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Annie Jump Cannon, and Henrietta Swan Leavitt. However, with Payne-Gaposchkin's Ph.D., women entered the 'mainstream'.

The trail she blazed into the largely male-dominated scientific community was an inspiration to many. For example, she became a role model for astrophysicist Joan Feynman. Feynman's mother and grandmother had dissuaded her from pursuing science, since they believed women were not physically capable of understanding scientific concepts. But Feynman was later inspired by Payne-Gaposchkin when she came across some of her work in an astronomy textbook. Seeing Payne-Gaposchkin's research published in this way convinced Feynman that she could, in fact, follow her scientific passions.

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