Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cecilia Payne

"Since her death in 1979, the woman who discovered what the universe is made of has not so much as received a memorial plaque. Her newspaper obituaries do not mention her greatest discovery. […] Every high school student knows that Isaac Newton discovered gravity, that Charles Darwin discovered evolution, and that Albert Einstein discovered the relativity of time. But when it comes to the composition of our universe, the textbooks simply say that the most abundant atom in the universe is hydrogen. And no one ever wonders how we know."
— Jeremy Knowles, discussing the complete lack of recognition Cecilia Payne gets, even today, for her revolutionary discovery


  1. Oh my goodness: I had never heard about her either (despite considering myself an educated person!). Having just looked her up on Wikipedia I am rather mortified that I never knew any of this. It is shocking what she had to contend with and very cool to hear she eventually became a Prof and HoD at Harvard (after Cambridge would not even give her an undergrad degree!!)

    On a slight tangent, do you know what, all the popular science books I have ever read were written by men. Without a single exception. A quick google confirms that while there are a handful of popular science books written by women, there aren't many, esp if you don't count biographies.

    A gap in the market perhaps!

  2. Sarah -
    Exactly why I teach Gender & Women's Studies and study History. Women are consistently absent from history textbooks and popular history programs. How are young girls and boys supposed to learn what women are capable of if they're never exposed to this?