Watch ‘Women and the Stars: How women have shaped our understanding of the universe’ by Dr Helen Klus below. You can also download the slides as a PDF here.


In this free public lecture for Ada Lovelace Day, Dr Helen Klus from the Royal Astronomical Society shows how women have shaped our understanding of the universe. From painting prehistoric star maps on the walls of caves, to discovering dark matter in the Galaxy, to commanding space shuttles and walking in space.

At the same time, these women have faced tremendous prejudice. Henrietta Swan Leavitt, for example, discovered how to determine the distance to stars. She may have used this to discover that the universe is expanding, but women weren’t allowed to use high-calibre telescopes until the 1960s.

Margaret Burbidge, who helped discover how elements are made in stars, had to sneak into Mount Wilson Observatory posing as her husband’s assistant. Many women corresponded with scientists in their husband’s name.

Dr Klus looks at how this history has led to the current climate for women in astronomy, including media representation and the effect of the #MeToo movement, and discusses why diversity is better for everyone.