Cecilia Payne - known later as Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin - was born in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England on May 10, 1900. She studied at Cambridge University where she became interested in astronomy and was encouraged and assisted by Arthur Eddington. Although she fulfilled the requirements for a degree, the university didn't award degrees to women then. However, she was able to get a scholarship to Harvard College Observatory in the USA. Her research included many years of working with variable stars and novae, her efforts adding greatly to our understanding of the nature of these objects. Her thesis, published in 1925 as 'Stellar Atmospheres' and since described as '. . . the best Ph.D. thesis in astronomy ever written', resulted in her becoming the first recipient of a Ph.D. from Harvard College Observatory.

Payne-Gaposchkin spent her entire academic career at Harvard, and in 1956 was promoted to the position of full professor by Donald Menzel, the Director of the Harvard College Observatory. This was followed by her appointment to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy, her students including many individuals who were destined to play important roles in astronomy, including Helen Sawyer Hogg, Joseph Ashbrook and Frank Drake. The minor planet 2039 Payne-Gaposchkin, discovered on 14 Feb 1974 by astronomers at the Agassiz Station of the Harvard College Observatory in Massachusetts, USA, is named in her honour.

[Society for the History of Astronomy]

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Mona Evans
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