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8th of March 2021
International Women's Day: Ruby Payne-Scott
We celebrate International Women's Day by reviewing the career of pioneering radio-astronomer Ruby Payne-Scott. In 1941 Ruby joined the CSIR Division of Radiophysics as a research scientist, working on the development of World War II radar and then in solar astronomy. In 1944, she and Joe Pawsey carried out an initial radio astronomy experiment from Sydney University, which was followed in 1945 by key solar radio astronomy observations at Dover Heights. From 1945 to 1947, she discovered three of the five categories of solar bursts originating in the solar corona and made major contributions to the techniques of radio astronomy.

Ruby was an early advocate for women’s rights in the work place, over issues ranging from pay equality, to dress code regulations, and rules which permitted men, but not women, to smoke at work. Ruby's career was impacted by another Public Service rule of that era, that married women could not be employed on a permanent basis. Ruby simply neglected to inform CSIRO when she got married in 1944, but when management became aware in 1950, she was reduced to temporary employee status. Ruby finally resigned in 1951 when she was pregnant (as there were no provisions for maternity leave at the time), writing "I am sorry to give up the research work I have been doing and also to leave the lab where I have been happy and have so many friends."

Ruby Payne-Scott's career is reviewed by Goss and McGee in Under the Radar, an abridged popular science version of which later appeared as Making Waves, both published by Springer. Ruby's contributions to science have been recognised by CSIRO, which in 2008 established the Payne-Scott Award "for researchers returning from family-related career breaks", and by the Australian Academy of Science, which this year inaugurated the Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and Lecture, a career award that recognises women researchers of the highest standing in the physical and/or biological sciences.

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