Eleanor Margaret Peachey, later to become Margaret Burbidge, was born in Davenport, England, in August 1919. Her undergraduate work was in physics at the University of London where she graduated in 1948. In that year, she married Geoffrey Burbidge, a theoretical physicist, with whom she has collaborated on numerous occasions during a highly productive career. After graduation, she joined the University of London Observatory's staff where she later received her Ph.D. and served as Acting Director for a brief period. Her next three appointments were at the Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago from 1951 to 1953, the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England from 1953 to 1957, and finally the California Institute of Technology from 1955 to 1957. In 1957, Margaret Burbidge received an academic appointment at the University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory as associate professor of astronomy. Since 1964, she has been professor of astronomy at the University of California, San Diego, and has also served as Director of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences.
In 1972, Margaret Burbidge returned briefly to England to take on the prestigious position of Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, which between 1948 and 1958 was moved from its historic site near London to Herstmonceux Castle near Brighton in Sussex. As Director, she dedicated herself to improving the efforts of that great observatory in optical astronomy in the use of the Isaac Newton 2.5-m telescope. This telescope now resides at a new international observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands off the North African coast. The Isaac Newton telescope has been joined by a 4.1-m optical telescope known as the William Herschel telescope.
During her career, Margaret Burbidge has participated in astronomical research of great importance to the science. In 1957, she collaborated with her husband, Fred Hoyle, and William Fowler in publishing what has become a classic scientific paper on the synthesis of the chemical elements in stars. Again in 1967 collaborating with her husband and relying on much of her own observational research on the spectra of quasars, she published Quasi-Stellar Objects, the first comprehensive work on these enigmatic objects. Today, Margaret Burbidge continues an active research career on quasistellar objects and other peculiar galaxies.
In acknowledgement of her many scientific accomplishments, Margaret Burbidge was awarded by President Reagan the National Medal of Science in February of 1985. Throughout its history astronomy has been fortunate to have many outstanding women contributing to the science, but no more so than in the contributions of Margaret Burbidge.