In 1939 Margaret graduated from the University College, London in the field of Astrophysics, a field in which there were very few women. This meant that there were a number of obstacles to overcome.
The first of which was trying to use the Wilson Observatory because it was a requirement for a fellowship she was trying to get. At the time it only allowed men to use it, this meant she lost the fellowship. But as the saying goes, “Where there is a will there is a way.” Eventually, Margaret was able to use the observatory by signing her husband’s name to the login sheets and when questioned she said she was his assistant.
Margaret’s specific area of focus was the chemical abundance and composition of stars. in 1953 she worked with her husband Geoffrey Burbidge, William Alfred Fowler, and Fred Hoyle. Together they hypothesized that all chemical elements could be synthesized by stars in a nuclear reaction. Margaret went on to be a key developing member of the Hubble Telescope.
In addition to her scientific work, Margaret pushed for the end of gender bias in Astronomy and other scientific fields in general. She turned down the Annie J. Cannon Award of the Astronomical Society because, “it is high time discrimination in favor of, as well as against women in professional life be removed.”
I am going to diverge from the standard Historical Fiction recommendations for this post and go with some classic science fiction books that I feel inspired to read based on Margaret’s story.
- The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle