Ruby Payne-Scott bigraphy, stories - Astronomers

Ruby Payne-Scott : biography

28 May 1912 - 25 May 1981

Ruby Violet Payne-Scott, BSc(Phys) MSc DipEd(Syd) (28 May 1912 – 25 May 1981) was an Australian pioneer in radiophysics and radio astronomy, and was the first female radio astronomer.

Professional roles

  • Research fellow, Cancer Research Committee, University of Sydney, 1932–35
  • Woodlands Church of England Grammar School Glenelg (Adelaide) 1938-1939.
  • Engineer, AWA Ltd, 1939-41.
  • Division of Radiophysics, CSIR (now CSIRO), 1941-51.
  • Home duties 1951-63.
  • Mathematics/science teacher, Danebank Church of England School, Sydney, 1963-74.

Early life

Payne-Scott was born in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia, on 28 May 1912. She later moved to Sydney to live with her aunt, and completed secondary schooling at Sydney Girls High School.

She won two scholarships to undertake tertiary education at the University of Sydney, where she completed a B.Sc. in Physics in 1933, an M.Sc. in 1936, and a Diploma of Education in 1938.


One of the more outstanding physicistsClaire Hooker, Irresistible Forces: Australian Women in Science, Melbourne University Press, 2004, 215 pages; ISBN 0-522-85107-X. Also, the Science Show that Australia has ever produced and one of the first people in the world to consider the possibility of radio astronomy, and thereby responsible for what is now a fundamental part of the modern lexicon of science, she was often the only woman in her classes at the University of Sydney.

Her career arguably reached its zenith while working for the Australian government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (then called CSIR, now known as CSIRO) at Dover Heights, Hornsby and especially Potts Hill in Sydney. Some of her fundamental contributions to solar radio astronomy came at the end of this period. She is the discoverer of Type I and Type III bursts, Ionospheric Prediction Service, accessed 19 October 2011 and participated in the recognition of Type II and IV bursts. Payne-Scott played a major role in the first-ever radio astronomical interferometer observation from 26 January 1946, when the sea-cliff interferometer was used to determine the position and angular size of a solar burst. This observation occurred at either Dover Heights (ex Army shore defence radar) or at Beacon Hill, near Collaroy on Sydney's north shore (ex Royal Australian Air Force surveillance radar establishment - however this radar did not become active until early 1950).Goss & McGee, 2009.

During World War II, she was engaged in top secret work investigating radar. She was the expert on the detection of aircraft using PPI (Plan Position Indicator) displays. She was also at the time a member of the Communist Party and an early advocate for women's rights. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was interested in Payne-Scott and had a substantial file on her activities, with some distortions.


  • Goss, W. M. and McGee, Richard X., "Under the Radar The First Woman in Radio Astronomy, Ruby Payne-Scott". Springer, 2009.
  • Relative intensity of spectral lines in indium and gallium. Nature, 131 (1933), 365-366.
  • (With W.H. Love) Tissue cultures exposed to the influence of a magnetic field. Nature, 137 (1936), 277.
  • Notes on the use of photographic films as a means of measuring gamma ray dosage. Sydney. University. Cancer Research Committee. Journal., 7 (1936), 170-175.
  • The wavelength distribution of the scattered radiation in a medium traversed by a beam of X or gamma rays. British Journal of Radiology, N.S., 10 (1937), 850-870.
  • (With A.L. Green) Superheterodyne tracking charts. II. A.W.A. Technical Review, 5 (1941), 251-274; Wireless Engineer, 19 (1942), 290-302.
  • A note on the design of iron-cored coils at audio frequencies. A.W.A. Technical Review, 6 (1943), 91-96.
  • Eight unpublished classified technical reports at the Division of Radiophyiscs during World War II including Pawsey and Payne-Scott from 1944 : Measurements of the noise level picked up by an S-band aerial. CSIR Radiophysics Laboratory Report, RP 209 (1944).
  • Solar and cosmic radio frequency radiation; survey of knowledge available and measurements taken at Radiophysics Laboratory to Dec. 1, 1945. CSIR Radiophysics Laboratory Report SRP 501/27 (1945).
  • (With J.L. Pawsey and L.L. McCready) Radio-frequency energy from the sun. Nature, 157 (1946), 158.
  • ‘A study of solar radio frequency radiation on several frequencies during the sunspot of July–August 1946. CSIR Radiophyscis Laboratory Report, RPL 9 (1947).
  • (With D.E. Yabsley and J.G. Bolton) Relative times of arrival of bursts of solar noise on different radio frequencies. Nature, 160 (1947), 256.
  • The visibility of small echoes on radar PPI displays. Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers, 36 (1948), 180.
  • Solar Noise Records taken during 1947and 1948. CSIR Radiophysics Laboratory Report. RPL 30 (1948).
  • (With L.L. McCready) Ionospheric effects noted during dawn observations on solar noise. Terrestrial Magnetism and Atmospheric Electricity, 53 (1948), 429.
  • Bursts of solar radiation at metre wavelengths. Australian Journal of Scientific Research (A), 2 (1949), 214.
  • The noise-like character of solar radiation at metre wavelengths. Australian Journal of Scientific Research (A), 2 (1949), 228.
  • Some characteristics of non-thermal solar radiation at metre . Journal of Geophysical Research, 55 (1950), 233. (In collection of papers ‘Summary of Proceedings of Australian National Committee of Radio Science, URSI, Sydney, 16–20 January 1950)
  • (With A.G. Little) The position and movement on the solar disk of sources of radiation at a frequency of 97 Mc/s. I. Equipment. Australian Journal of Scientific Research (A), 4 (1951), 489.
  • (With A.G. Little) The positions and movement on the solar disk of sources of radiation at a frequency of 97 Mc/s II. Noise Storms. Australian Journal of Scientific Research (A), 4 (1951), 508.
  • (With A.G. Little) The position and movement on the solar disk of sources of radiation at a frequency of 97 Mc/s. III. Outbursts. Aust. J. of Scientific Research A, 5 (1952), 32.


Personal life


Ruby Payne-Scott and William ("Bill") Holman Hall secretly married in 1944; at this time, the Commonwealth government had legislated that a married woman could not hold a permanent position within the public service. She continued to work for CSIRO while secretly married until the regulations of the new CSIRO in 1949 raised the issue of her marriage. The following year, her treatment by CSIRO resulted in hostile written exchanges with Sir Ian Clunies Ross (Chairman of CSIRO) about the status of married women in the work place. She lost her permanent position in CSIRO. However, her salary was maintained at a level comparable to that of her male colleagues. In 1951, she resigned a few months before her son Peter was born; there was no maternity leave at this time.

She changed her name to Ruby Hall only after she left CSIRO. Ruby and Bill Hall had two children: Peter Gavin Hall, an internationally renowned mathematician working in theoretical statistics and probability theory, and Fiona Margaret Hall, one of Australia's more prominent artists, whose career is described by Julie Ewington in her 2005 book Fiona Hall.


Ruby Payne-Scott died in Sydney, New South Wales, 25 May 1981, three days short of her 69th birthday. She suffered from Alzheimer's disease in the last years of her life., Pauline Newman, The Science Show, 14 February 2004, ABC Radio National, accessed 19 October 2011

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Living octopus

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