Western Slope Skies - 3/14/14

Mar 14, 2014

This is a continuing series on Women in Astronomy.  Today, we meet Margaret Burbidge.

Margaret Burbidge was born in 1919.  She received her PHD in astronomy in 1943 from the University College.  In 1945, she applied for, but was denied a Carnegie Fellowship at the Wilson Observatory, because it was reserved for men only at that time.

In 1948, she married Geoffrey Burbidge, a theoretical astrophysicist.

In 1955, Geoffrey applied for and received a Carnegie Fellowship at the Wilson Observatory.  Geoffrey was a theoretician and did not use telescopes.  The subterfuge notwithstanding, Geoffrey and Margaret were given access to the telescopes, where the research was all Margaret's.   

In 1957, Margaret, Geoffrey, William Fowler, and Fred Hoyle published "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars."  This is an iconic paper in astrophysics and is called the B2FH paper for its four authors.  The paper identified the nucleosynthesis pathways for all but the lightest of the elements in the Universe. 

In 1972, she was named Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.  That same year, she turned down the Annie Cannon Award, because it was given to women only.  She said "It is high time that discrimination in favor of, as well as against, women in professional life be removed"

Credit University of California, San Diego

Margaret Burbidge received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2005 and is only the third woman to  receive the Gold Medal.

Margaret has been president of the American Astronomical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Margaret Burbidge is presently a Professor Emeritus at the University of California - San Diego.