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Cecilia Payne Biography

Biography | 6-14 yrs

Who is Cecilia Payne?

Cecilia Payne was an astronomer who discovered that stars were made of helium and hydrogen, thus changing the way astronomers understood the universe. It was previously believed that Earth, the Sun and stars were elementally very similar. Her work was initially rejected as it questioned long held beliefs in astronomy.

Education –

Payne studied astronomy at a time when there were very few women in the field. She began her journey when she was granted a scholarship to Cambridge University to study physics. After finding her options for the future limited, she moved to Harvard University and became the first woman to receive a PhD in Astronomy from Radcliffe College.

Research and Work –

Her analysis of variable stars laid the groundwork for all studies that have been conducted since. She showed a far greater understanding of the universe than most of her male counterparts at the time. Her work was rewarded when she became the first woman to Chair the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University.