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“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”






Cecilia Payne was awarded a scholarship to Cambridge University where she studied, chemistry, physics and botany. Her passion for astronomy began after attending a lecture by Arthur Eddington about his expedition to the Gulf of Guinea to observe and photograph a solar eclipse and the nearby stars to test Einstein’s theory of relativity. Cecilia said, 'The result was a complete transformation of my world picture. My world had been so shaken that I experienced something very like a nervous breakdown.’

Though she completed her studies at Cambridge, she did not receive a degree because - you guessed it - she’s a woman! Cambridge didn’t grant degrees to female students until 1948. Womp. 

She was the second recipient of a fellowship to study at Harvard College Observatory specifically designed to encourage women to study there. She went on to be the first person to receive a Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College, which is not part of Harvard. Her thesis was  "Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars.” At the time, astronomer Henry Norris Russell was critical of Payne’s views, as her views on the composition of the sun - that is was primarily hydrogen - was contradictory to what was otherwise widely accepted at the time - that the earth, sun and stars were all generally comprised of the same materials. 

Years later, when Russell found himself at the same conclusion that Payne reached years before, he published his own paper. While he did credit Payne in his own work, Russell is often credited with the entirety of the work.

She went on to have a long career at Harvard, beginning at a time when she held no official position and her courses were omitted from the official catalogue. In 1956 she became the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She later became the first female department head and upon her retirement, she was appointed Emeritus Professor of Harvard. She edited the journals and books published by Harvard Observatory for twenty years and continued her research for many years after retirement. Upon further review of her thesis, several other notable astronomers have deemed it “undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.”

CLEARLY Cecilia Payne is a boss ass bitch.

March 13,  2018



“We liked to be known as the clever girls. When we decorated our hands with henna for holidays and weddings, we drew calculus and chemical formulae instead of flowers and butterflies.” 



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