Eleanor Margaret Peachey Burbidge

Eleanor Margaret Peachey Burbidge


Date of Birth
August 12, 1919
Date of Death
April 5, 2020

Margaret Burbidge was born in England and educated at the University of London, where she remained until 1951. She worked at Yerkes Observatory and the California Institute of Technology before joining the faculty of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 1962. She held many administrative positions, including that of director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory and first director of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at UCSD. In 1957 she, Geoffrey R. BurbidgeWilliam A. Fowler and Fred Hoyle showed how all of the elements except the very lightest are produced by nuclear reactions in stellar interiors. She also studied spectra of galaxies, determining their rotations, masses, and chemical composition, and she achieved particular renown for spectroscopic studies of quasars. She played a major role in developing instrumentation for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Arp, H.C. & A. Fraknoi, Mercury 11, 154 (1982).

Other awards

American Astronomical Society, Helen Warner Prize, 1959 (with Geoffrey Burbidge); Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1984.
Association pour le Développement International de l’Observatoire de Nice, ADION medal, 1987
National Science Foundation, National Medal of Science, 1983.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Karl G. Jansky Lectureship, 1977.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 2005 (with Geoffrey Burbidge).
World Cultural Council, Albert Einstein World Award of Science, 1988.

Some offices held

American Association for the Advancement of Science, President, 1983.
American Astronomical Society, President, 1976-78.

Biographical materials

Burbidge, E.M., “Watcher of the Skies,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 32, 1-36 (1994).
Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics
Oleck, Joan, “E. Margaret Burbidge,” in Notable 20th Century Scientists (Gale Research, Detroit, MI, 1995), pp. 375-80.
Skuse, Benjamin, “Happy Birthday, Margaret,” Sky & Telescope, July 2019.
Warren, Rebecca Lowe in Shearer, Benjamin F. & Barbara S., eds. Notable Women in the Physical Sciences: a Biographical Dictionary (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT & London, 1997), pp. 27-32.


Boggs, Steven & Brian Maple, University of California Academic Senate.
Boksenberg, Alec, Science, 29 May 2020.
Cohen, Adam D., American Association for the Advancement of Science, 8 April 2020.
Dillon, Cynthia, University of California, San Diego, 9 April 2020.
Fox, Margalit, New York Times, 7 April 2020.

Academic genealogy



AIP Center for History of Physics (several)
Caltech Archives (several)
Clemson University Photo Archive in Nuclear Astrophysics

Named after her

Minor Planet #5490 Burbidge 
University of California, San Diego, Margaret Burbidge Visiting Professorship of Physics and Astronomy


Papers, etc.

Most of Burbidge papers are at the UCSD Library. Papers as director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory are at the RGO Archives at the University of Cambridge. There is a 1978 oral history interview available at the AIP Niels Bohr Library & Archives, and another oral interview at the UCSD Library.

Other References: Historical

Search ADS for works about Burbidge

Reed, J., “A Great Woman Astronomer Leaves England Again,” Smithsonian (Jan 1974), p. 34.

Burbidge, E.M. & G.R. Burbidge, “The Abundances of the Elements,” Observatory 73, 69 (1953).

Burbidge, Margaret, “Moving to Washington, the Cannon Prize, and Other Thoughts,” in The American Astronomical Society’s first century, ed. by David H. DeVorkin. (American Inst. of Physics, Washingtond, 1999), p. 146-47.

Burbidge, E. Margaret, “Modern Alchemy: Fred Hoyle and Element Building by Neutron Capture,” in Douglas Gough, ed., The Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 2005), pp. 227-239 [abstract].

Hoyle, FredHome is Where the Wind Blows: Chapters from a Cosmologist’s Life (University Science Books, Mill Valley, CA, 1994).

Rubin, Vera, “E. Margaret Burbidge, President-Elect [of the AAAS],” Science 211, 915-16 (1981).

Other References: Scientific

Search ADS for works by Burbidge

Burbidge, E. Margaret, Geoffrey R. BurbidgeWilliam A. Fowler, and Fred Hoyle, “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 29, 547-650 (1957). [The famous B2FH paper]

Burbidge, E. Margaret & Geoffrey Burbidge, “Stellar Evolution,” Handbuch der Physik 51, 134 (1958).

Burbidge, E. Margaret, G.R. Burbidge, & K.H. Prendergast, “The Rotation, Mass Distribution and Mass of NGC 5055,” Ap.J. 131, 282-92 (1960).

Burbidge, G.R., E.M. Burbidge, & A.R. Sandage, “Evidence for Violent Events in the Nuclei of Galaxies,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 35, 947-72 (1963).

Burbidge, Geoffrey & Margaret, Quasi-stellar Objects (W.H. Freeman, San Francisco, 1967).

Burbidge, E.M., G.R. Burbidge, P.M. Solomon & P.A. Strittmatter, “Apparent Associations Between Bright Galaxies and Quasi-Stellar Objects,” Ap.J. 171, 233-40 (1971).

Burbidge, E.M. & G.R. Burbidge, “The Masses of Galaxies,” in A. Sandage, M. Sandage, & J. Kristian, eds., Galaxies and the Universe, (U. of Chicago Press, 1975), p. 81.

Burbidge, E.M. & G.R. Burbidge, “Empirical Evidence Concerning Absorption Lines and Radiation Pressure in Quasi-stellar Objects,“ Ap.J. 202, 287-95 (1975).

Junkkarinen, Vesa T., E. Margaret Burbridge, & Harding E. Smith, “Spectrophotometry of six broad absorption line QSOs,” Ap.J. 317, 460-76 (1987).

Korista, Kirk T., et al, “Hubble Space Telescope Faint Object Spectrograph and Ground-based Observations of the Broad Absorption Line Quasar 0226-1024,” Ap.J. 401, 529-42 (1992).

Burbidge, E.M., C.M. Gutiérrez, & H. Arp, “A QSO Discovered at the Redshift of the Extended X-Ray Cluster RX J0152.7-1357,” PASP 118, 124-28 (2006).

Burbidge, E.M. & G. Burbidge, “The Redshifts of Galaxies and QSOs,” in Jean-Claude Pecker & Jayant Narlikar, eds., Current Issues in Cosmology (Cambridge Univ, Press, Cambrige, UK, 2006), pp. 17-36.

Wallerstein, George, et al, “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars: Forty Years of Progress,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 69, 995-1084 (1997).

Other Works: Popularizations, Fiction, etc.

Burbidge, M. “Adventure into Space,” Science 221, 421 (1983). [Presidential Address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science]

Burbidge, E.M., “Astronomical Challenges for the Twenty-First Century,” Technical News 11, 36-40 (1982) [abstract].