At the young age of 16, she began Sydney University and graduated in course finished in with First-Class Honours in physics and maths.
She was just the third woman to graduate in physics from the University of Sydney. From to , she was a physicist at the Cancer Research Institute. When the cancer research project closed down she had to find another job as there appeared to be no positions available for a woman physicist. At that point in her life, Ruby may well have been the story of many other brilliant women of her era. She may have disappeared into teaching and we may not have heard anything of her again.
But I guess she loved physics and was looking for a way back in and she applied to Australian Wireless Amalgamated AWA , an enormous company in those days that ran all the wireless services in Australia and it was the major hirer of physicists at that time.
Ruby was the very first woman they hired in a research capacity. Before Ruby, they had been very wary of hiring women even as typists and as cleaners. Ruby they hired as a librarian but she quickly turned the word librarian into a whole lot more.
Research contributions In a remarkably short period, Payne-Scott played a key role in the rapid growth of radio astronomy in the immediate postwar environment. She provided scientific leadership in this period as well as technical insights. In the seven years as a radio astronomer , she made monumental contributions to this new science in which Australia excelled and helped lay the foundations for many future decades of world leadership in radio astronomy.
The beginning of World War II in created more career opportunities for women science graduates. As noted above she began her career as a radio engineer at Amalgamated Wireless Australasia AWA in as a librarian. In August , she was appointed as a research scientist at the newly established CSIR Division of Radiophysics; the obscure name of the Division was intended to hide the true nature of radar research.
In , about 3 months after her appointment Taffy Bowen , the head of the Division then, wrote a kind of memorandum on Ruby as a probationary employee saying: In March , she and Joseph Pawsey carried out an initial radio astronomy experiment from the Madsen Building in the grounds of Sydney University.
This was followed in by her carrying out some of the key early solar radio astronomy observations at Dover Heights Sydney. In the years to , 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. Equal rights for women were hardly heard of in the s. In those days women had to deal with discrimination, not by their colleagues, but by administrators and petty bureaucrats.
One was the edict that women were not allowed to smoke, the men could smoke but the women could not. When this came up for discussion, Ruby apparently went into the interview smoking a cigarette just to show that this was nonsense and completely unfair. Another was the dress code.
The women were told that, unlike the men, they were not allowed to wear shorts but were expected to wear a skirt. When brought in for an interview, Ruby said: Well, this is absurd.
The shorts are much better attire for us. In October , the issue of equal pay for women arose. During the later stage of the war, women scientists had been paid equal wages instead of the previous 75 per cent rate.
In , a reversion to the old pay scale was imminent. Until November , the Australian Public Service required married women to resign. This event had serious consequences for her full-time employment at the CSIR. As her former colleague Joan Freeman who became an eminent nuclear physicist in Britain recalled: At that time she let it be known that she was living with a man, Bill Hall, to whom she was not married.
However Ruby, who had always kept her private life very much to herself, carried on as usual, unperturbed. It was not until 2 years later that the truth came out. She had been married to Bill all along, but did not want the fact to be known officially because of the long-standing rule in Government Establishments that married women could not be employed on a permanent basis. Ruby had hoped by her deception, to evade what she considered to be an outrageous and discriminatory law.
All her Radio Physics friends, having developed a strong affection for Ruby as well as respect for her scientific abilities, greeted the story with hilarity and sympathized with her attitude. She then stated that she never tried to keep her marriage secret and the letter ends with: I told you my story, not in order to implicate you in anyway, but to demonstrate that the present procedure is ridiculous and can lead to ridiculous results.
Clunies Ross replied on 3 March In conclusion, I think the simplest way of regularizing the whole affair would be for you to tell us the date of your marriage. We will look into the matter and tell you what should be done in your own and our best interest. She was reduced to a temporary employee status. Payne-Scott also lost all pension rights for the future. She was also an alleged member of the Communist Party of Australia. This brought her to the attention of ASIO. Dick McGee got the complete file about Ruby from the Australian archives and there are about 39 pages from the ASIO file and we have about half of those pages.
It was a very dangerous situation for Ruby to be accused of. But in the end the final statement in the ASIO file, which was closed in the mid s, is that there is no evidence that Miss Payne-Scott is a member of the communist party of Australia.
Resignation and retirement On 20 July , Payne-Scott resigned with a notice of only two days. She was pregnant for the second time, having had a miscarriage a few years previously.
With no maternity leave, there was no choice. This event must be giving you a great deal of pleasure but I can well imagine that you regret having to leave off research, at least for the time being. Unfortunately we cannot give a married woman leave without pay, but I can assure you that I at least would be very pleased to see you return to Radiophysics in due course.
I hope that the event comes off successfully. A month later, she wrote White: 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. If all goes well I do not expect to be returning to Radiophysics at least for some years… When Payne-Scott left Radiophysics, she had one of the highest salaries of the scientific staff who were not in the administration pounds per annum and had been promoted to Senior Research Officer Grade I.
The family lived in Oatley, a southern suburb of Sydney, NSW and Ruby stayed home to raise her two children until In that year, she began her teaching career again as a math and science teacher at Danebank Anglican School for Girls in Hurstville. She retired in A biography of Payne-Scott Under the Radar: The grant provides support to researchers to re-establish themselves and re-connect with the research underway in their field and related fields of research.
Goss WM, , Personal communication. Miller Goss] Related Achievements.