Ruby Violet Payne-Scott, physicist, radio astronomer and schoolteacher, was born on 28 May 1912 at Grafton, New South Wales, elder child of Cyril Hermann Payne-Scott, a London-born accountant, and his Sydney-born wife Amy Sarah, née Neale. After attending Sydney Girls’ High School, Ruby obtained first-class honours in mathematics and physics at the University of Sydney.
In 1940s Australia there were few opportunities for female scientists like Ruby Payne-Scott. However, the manpower shortage brought on by World War II gave Ruby her lucky break. In June 1941 she and Joan Freeman became the first women physicists to be employed by the Radiophysics Laboratory of the then Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) at the University of Sydney.
What followed was a brief but extraordinary career marked by scientific milestones. Ruby was part of the Australian team that developed a means of measuring radio emissions from the Sun and stars, a breakthrough which would in turn lead to the construction of sophisticated radio telescopes.
She confronted inequality and injustice wherever she perceived it. Unrestricted by conventional dress for women—she daringly wore shorts to work—she was an avid bushwalker and home renovator with her husband.