Professor Eleanor Burbidge FRS

Eleanor Burbidge was an astrophysicist whose telescopic observations and spectroscopic analyses of galaxies, stars and quasars provided profound insight into the chemical structure of stars and the formation of new galaxies. She was also hugely influential in advancing equal opportunities for women in astronomy.

Together with her husband, Geoffrey Burbidge, and Fred Hoyle and William Fowler, Eleanor co-authored a paper entitled ‘Synthesis of the Elements in Stars’. Now referred to as the ‘B2FH theory’ — Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler and Hoyle — this research demonstrated that all elements, except the very lightest, are produced by nuclear processes inside stars.

Throughout her career, Eleanor held many prestigious posts, including Director of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich and President of both the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She received many accolades but, in 1972, famously turned down the AAS Annie J Cannon Award because it is awarded to women only.

Professor Eleanor Burbidge FRS died on 5 February 2020.

Biographical Memoir

Subject groups

  • Astronomy and physics


  • Other

    Science policy

Professor Eleanor Burbidge FRS
Elected 1964