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What Stars Are Made Of

The Life of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

Donovan Moore Jocelyn Bell Burnell

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Harvard Uni.Press Academi
03 March 2020
The history of science is replete with women getting little notice for their groundbreaking discoveries. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, a tireless innovator who correctly theorized the substance of stars, was one of them.

It was not easy being a woman of ambition in early twentieth-century England, much less one who wished to be a scientist. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin overcame prodigious obstacles to become a woman of many firsts: the first to receive a PhD in astronomy from Radcliffe College, the first promoted to full professor at Harvard, the first to head a department there. And, in what has been called ?the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy,? she was the first to describe what stars are made of.

Payne-Gaposchkin lived in a society that did not know what to make of a determined schoolgirl who wanted to know everything. She was derided in college and refused a degree. As a graduate student, she faced formidable skepticism. Revolutionary ideas rarely enjoy instantaneous acceptance, but the learned men of the astronomical community found hers especially hard to take seriously. Though welcomed at the Harvard College Observatory, she worked for years without recognition or status. Still, she accomplished what every scientist yearns for: discovery. She revealed the atomic composition of stars?only to be told that her conclusions were wrong by the very man who would later show her to be correct.

In What Stars Are Made Of, Donovan Moore brings this remarkable woman to life through extensive archival research, family interviews, and photographs. Moore retraces Payne-Gaposchkin's steps with visits to cramped observatories and nighttime bicycle rides through the streets of Cambridge, England. The result is a story of devotion and tenacity that speaks powerfully to our own time.
By:   Donovan Moore
Foreword by:   Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Imprint:   Harvard Uni.Press Academi
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 210mm,  Width: 140mm, 
ISBN:   9780674237377
ISBN 10:   0674237374
Pages:   304
Publication Date:   03 March 2020
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Donovan Moore has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Boston Globe and Rolling Stone, and has worked as a television reporter and producer.

Reviews for What Stars Are Made Of: The Life of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was one of the world's first astrochemists. This book tells of her striking scientific insights, her frustrations as a female scientist and how she rose to become the first female professor at Harvard University...Very readable and well organized, giving remarkable insights into its paradoxical subject who was both shy but determined...A worthy tribute to a truly remarkable woman. -- Bill Griffith * Chemistry World * Recounts the remarkable story of this unusually gifted scientist. -- Priyamvada Natarajan * Book Post * An astronomy icon is finally brought to life in this captivating and inspiring must-read. Donovan Moore digs deep to reveal a scientist far ahead of her time. -- Sara Seager, Massachusetts Institute of Technology What Stars Are Made Of provides both an accessible introduction to and an expansive context for the life and work of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, one of the most brilliant astrophysicists of the twentieth century. The sharing of stories like Payne-Gaposchkin's will reshape the future of science so that all aspiring scientists may reach their full potential as we continue to explore the universe. -- Emily Rice, City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History I devoured this book in a single weekend. Donovan Moore artfully portrays the lack of recognition for Payne-Gaposchkin's paradigm-changing discoveries and embarks, as resolutely as Cecilia herself, to set the record straight. -- Jessie Christiansen, NASA Exoplanet Science Institute Through vivid and eloquent prose, this book applauds the great astronomer who discovered what stars themselves are made of. Moore brings the inspirational story of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin to center stage, where it belongs. -- Jo Dunkley, author of <i>Our Universe: An Astronomer's Guide</i> What Stars Are Made Of celebrates the scientist responsible for discovering the composition of stars. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin dedicated her life to the pursuit of science when very few women were given the chance. Throughout her long career, she never stopped adapting her methods and embracing new ideas, fueled by a passion to understand the universe and our place in it. -- Scott Kelly, retired US Navy Captain, former NASA astronaut, and author of <i>Endurance</i> An engaging, enlightening biography about a key figure in astrophysics in the 20th century. -- Jeff Foust * Space Review * Moore charts Payne-Gaposchkin's scientific life from grade school standout to world-class astronomer. -- Jennifer Carson * Science * A fine biography of perhaps the greatest astronomer of the past century that no one has heard of...Readers will gnash their teeth as Moore recounts the discrimination she endured...An outstanding life of an impressive scientist. * Kirkus Reviews (starred review) * Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin's success was not achieved by chance. She triumphed by facing down every obstacle, by never giving up, by being, as she says, 'doggedly persistent.' Donovan Moore brings Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin to the front of history in a way that inspires us, educates us, and makes us want to be better. Champions adapt, and Cecilia was a champion. -- Billie Jean King, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and winner of the Battle of the Sexes tennis match Illuminates the amazing life and work of astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin...Moore captures a fascinating period of change in science, when physics was in flux and astrophysics was brand-new, and in the world as a whole, as new opportunities opened up for women. This is a fascinating look at a pioneer in science. * Publishers Weekly * Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin is one of the most important scientists that you've never heard of...Moore pays tribute to a tenacious scientist whose many firsts helped break new ground-and whose spirit of discovery changed our understanding of the universe. * A Mighty Girl * Welcome not just because it puts the record straight for a wider audience but also because it is the proverbial good read, setting Payne's achievements in the context of her times. -- John Gribbin * Literary Review * Payne comes across as a fascinating woman, navigating the various gender-based obstacles in her way to build a life and career in a new subject (astrophysics) in a new country...An entertaining, engaging, and informative read. -- Emily Winterburn * BBC Sky at Night * A rich and illuminating biography of a scientist whose contributions have been underappreciated for too long. -- Donna Lu * New Scientist * Tells the story of a brilliant and altogether remarkable astronomer who is not nearly as famous as she should be. This clear and articulate book may go some way to rectify that situation...We owe a great deal to pioneers such as Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin, who should be better known and whose achievements should be much more widely celebrated. -- Patricia Ann Whitelock * Nature Astronomy * Moore takes readers on a meticulously researched tour of Payne-Gaposchkin's remarkable life, drawn from family interviews, contemporary accounts and Payne-Gaposchkin's own writings. It's a riveting tale of a woman who knocked down every wall put before her to get the answers she desired about the cosmos. -- Christopher Crockett * Science News * Male astronomers often achieve a popular fame that eluded one of the field's most distinguished women: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. That should be remedied by Donovan Moore's engaging and accessible biography. It skillfully opens up Payne's achievements and adventures by setting them in the global village of astronomy...Moore illuminates Payne's development into a remarkable scientist. -- Giuseppina Fabbiano * Nature * Payne-Gaposchkin pounded on astronomy's glass ceiling, and she was the first to put major cracks in it. But in many places, the ceiling was impervious to her effort and intellect. She deserves more praise for her accomplishments than she has received...Fortunately, Moore's new biography of this brilliant scientist is a must-read. -- David A. Weintraub * Physics Today * The first full-length biography, a beautifully written and well-researched study. Handling the science with a light but deft touch, Moore primarily focuses on this astronomer's personal life, the office politics, and the struggles one woman of science faced in the first half of the 20th century. -- Marcia Bartusiak * Wall Street Journal *


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