Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Bell Burnell in 2009
Susan Jocelyn Bell
15 July 1943
|Known for||Co-discovering the first four pulsars|
(m. 1968; div. 1993)
|Thesis||The Measurement of radio source diameters using a diffraction method (1968)|
|Doctoral advisor||Antony Hewish|
Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell //; born 15 July 1943) is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967. She was credited with "one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century". The discovery was recognised by the award of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics, but although she was the first to observe the pulsars, Bell was not one of the recipients of the prize.(
The paper announcing the discovery of pulsars had five authors. Bell's thesis supervisor Antony Hewish was listed first, Bell second. Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize, along with the astronomer Martin Ryle. Many prominent astronomers criticised Bell's omission, including Sir Fred Hoyle. In 1977, Bell Burnell played down this controversy, saying, "I believe it would demean Nobel Prizes if they were awarded to research students, except in very exceptional cases, and I do not believe this is one of them." The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in its press release announcing the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics, cited Ryle and Hewish for their pioneering work in radio-astrophysics, with particular mention of Ryle's work on aperture-synthesis technique, and Hewish's decisive role in the discovery of pulsars.
Bell Burnell served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002 to 2004, as president of the Institute of Physics from October 2008 until October 2010, and as interim president of the Institute following the death of her successor, Marshall Stoneham, in early 2011.
In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. Following the announcement of the award, she decided to give the whole of the £2.3 million prize money to help female, minority, and refugee students seeking to become physics researchers, the funds to be administered by the Institute of Physics. The resulting bursary scheme is to be known as the "Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund".
Education and early life
Jocelyn Bell was born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, to M. Allison and G. Philip Bell. Her father was an architect who had helped design the Armagh Planetarium, and during visits she was encouraged by the staff to pursue astronomy professionally. Young Jocelyn also discovered her father's books on astronomy.
She grew up in Lurgan and attended the Preparatory Department[a] of Lurgan College from 1948 to 1956, where she, like the other girls, was not permitted to study science until her parents (and others) protested against the school's policy. Previously, the girls' curriculum had included such subjects as cooking and cross-stitching rather than science.
She failed the eleven-plus exam and her parents sent her to The Mount School, a Quaker girls' boarding school in York, England. There she was favourably impressed by her physics teacher, Mr Tillott, and stated:
You do not have to learn lots and lots ... of facts; you just learn a few key things, and ... then you can apply and build and develop from those ... He was a really good teacher and showed me, actually, how easy physics was.
Career and research
She graduated from the University of Glasgow with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Philosophy (physics), with honours, in 1965 and obtained a PhD degree from the University of Cambridge in 1969. At Cambridge, she attended New Hall, Cambridge, and worked with Hewish and others to construct[b] the Interplanetary Scintillation Array just outside Cambridge to study quasars, which had recently been discovered.[c]
On 28 November 1967, she detected a "bit of scruff" on her chart-recorder papers that tracked across the sky with the stars. The signal had been visible in data taken in August, but as the papers had to be checked by hand, it took her three months to find it. She established that the signal was pulsing with great regularity, at a rate of about one pulse every one and a third seconds. Temporarily dubbed "Little Green Man 1" (LGM-1) the source (now known as PSR B1919+21) was identified after several years as a rapidly rotating neutron star. This was later documented by the BBC Horizon series. In a 2020 lecture at Harvard, she related how the media was covering the discovery pulsars, with interviews taking a standard 'disgusting' format: Hewish would be asked on the astrophysics, and she would be the 'human interest' part, asked about vital statistics, how many boyfriends she had, what colour is her hair, and asked to undo some buttons for the photographs. The Daily Telegraph science reporter shortened 'pulsating radio source' to pulsar.
She worked at the University of Southampton between 1968 and 1973, University College London from 1974 to 82 and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (1982–91). From 1973 to 1987 she was a tutor, consultant, examiner, and lecturer for the Open University. In 1986, she became the project manager for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. She was Professor of Physics at the Open University from 1991 to 2001. She was also a visiting professor at Princeton University in the United States and Dean of Science at the University of Bath (2001–04), and President of the Royal Astronomical Society between 2002 and 2004.
Bell Burnell is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Mansfield College. She was President of the Institute of Physics between 2008 and 2010. In February 2018 she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Dundee. In 2018, Bell Burnell visited Parkes, NSW, to deliver the keynote John Bolton lecture at the Central West Astronomical Society (CWAS) AstroFest event.
In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, worth three million dollars (£2.3 million), for her discovery of radio pulsars. The Special Prize, in contrast to the regular annual prize, is not restricted to recent discoveries. She donated all of the money "to fund women, under-represented ethnic minority and refugee students to become physics researchers", the funds to be administered by the Institute of Physics.
Nobel Prize controversy
That Bell did not receive recognition in the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics has been a point of controversy ever since. She helped build the Interplanetary Scintillation Array over two years and initially noticed the anomaly, sometimes reviewing as much as 96 feet (29 m) of paper data per night. Bell later said that she had to be persistent in reporting the anomaly in the face of scepticism from Hewish, who was initially insistent that it was due to interference and man-made. She spoke of meetings held by Hewish and Ryle to which she was not invited. In 1977, she commented on the issue:
First, demarcation disputes between supervisor and student are always difficult, probably impossible to resolve. Secondly, it is the supervisor who has the final responsibility for the success or failure of the project. We hear of cases where a supervisor blames his student for a failure, but we know that it is largely the fault of the supervisor. It seems only fair to me that he should benefit from the successes, too. Thirdly, I believe it would demean Nobel Prizes if they were awarded to research students, except in very exceptional cases, and I do not believe this is one of them. Finally, I am not myself upset about it – after all, I am in good company, am I not!
- The Albert A. Michelson Medal of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia (1973, jointly with Dr. Hewish).
- J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize from the Center for Theoretical Studies, University of Miami (1978).
- Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize of the American Astronomical Society (1986).
- Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1989).
- Jansky Lectureship before the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (1995).
- Magellanic Premium of the American Philosophical Society (2000).
- Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) (March 2003).
- Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE) (2004).
- William E. Gordon and Elva Gordon distinguished lecture at the Arecibo Observatory on 27 June 2006.
- The Grote Reber Medal at the General Assembly of the International Radio Science Union in Istanbul (19 August 2011)
- Lise-Meitner-Lecture at the Technical University Vienna (2013)
- The Royal Medal of the Royal Society (2015).
- The Women of the Year Prudential Lifetime Achievement Award (2015)
- The Institute of Physics President's Medal (2017)
- Grande Médaille of the French Academy of Sciences (2018)
- Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (2018)
- 23rd Annual Katzenstein Distinguished Lecture at the University of Connecticut (2019)
- In 1999, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Astronomy and promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2007.
- In February 2013, she was assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.
- In February 2014, she was elected President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the first woman to hold that office. She held the position from April 2014 to April 2018 when she was succeeded by Dame Anne Glover.
- In 2016, the Institute of Physics renamed their award for early-career female physicists the Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize.
- In 2020, she was included by the BBC in a list of seven important but little-known British female scientists.
Her publications include:
- Burnell, S. Jocelyn (1989). Broken for Life. Swarthmore Lecture. London: Quaker Home Service. ISBN 978-0-85245-222-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Riordan, Maurice; Burnell, S. Jocelyn (27 October 2008). Dark Matter: Poems of Space. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. ISBN 978-1-903080-10-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Personal and non-academic life
Bell Burnell is house patron of Burnell House at Cambridge House Grammar School in Ballymena. She has campaigned to improve the status and number of women in professional and academic posts in the fields of physics and astronomy.
Quaker activities and beliefs
From her school days, she has been an active Quaker and served as Clerk to the sessions of Britain Yearly Meeting in 1995, 1996 and 1997. She delivered a Swarthmore Lecture under the title Broken for Life, at Yearly Meeting in Aberdeen on 1 August 1989, and was the plenary speaker at the US Friends General Conference Gathering in 2000. She spoke of her personal religious history and beliefs in an interview with Joan Bakewell in 2006.
Bell Burnell served on the Quaker Peace and Social Witness Testimonies Committee, which produced Engaging with the Quaker Testimonies: a Toolkit in February 2007. In 2013 she gave a James Backhouse Lecture which was published in a book entitled A Quaker Astronomer Reflects: Can a Scientist Also Be Religious?, in which Burnell reflects about how cosmological knowledge can be related to what the Bible, Quakerism or Christian faith states.
In 1968, soon after her discovery, Bell married Martin Burnell; the couple divorced in 1993 after separating in 1989. Her husband was a local government officer, and his career took them to various parts of Britain. She worked part-time for many years while raising her son, Gavin Burnell, who is a member of the condensed matter physics group at the University of Leeds.
- The Preparatory Department of Lurgan College closed in 2004, the college becoming a selective grammar school for ages 14–19.
- "... upon entering the faculty, each student was issued a set of tools: a pair of pliers, a pair of long-nose pliers, a wire cutter, and a screwdriver...", said during a public lecture in Montreal during the 40 Years of Pulsars conference, 14 August 2007
- Interplanetary scintillation allows compact sources to be distinguished from extended ones.
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- "Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize". American Astronomical Society. Archived from the original on 17 January 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
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- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (26 October 1995). "The woman who discovered pulsars: An Interview with Jocelyn Bell Burnell at NRAO (National Radio Astronomy Observatory)" (Interview). Interviewed by Kate Marsh Weatherall; David G. Finley. Weatherall Technical Applications. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (21 May 2000). "Oral History Interviews: Jocelyn Bell Burnell" (Interview). Interviewed by David DeVorkin. College Park, MD: AIP.
- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (2007). "Pulsars 40 Years on". Science. 318 (5850): 579–581. doi:10.1126/science.1150039. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17962545.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (2013b). A Quaker Astronomer Reflects: Can a Scientist Also Be Religious?. James Backhouse Lecture. Australia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). p. 11. ISBN 978-0-646-59239-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (15 November 2013). Pulsars and Extreme Physics. TU Wien. Retrieved 10 September 2019 – via YouTube.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (8 November 2019). 23rd Annual Katzenstein Distinguished Lecture. University of Connecticut. Retrieved 10 November 2019 – via YouTube.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (13 February 2020). "The Discovery Of Pulsars - A graduate student's tale". Youtube.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Bell Burnell, S.J. (2004). "So Few Pulsars, So Few Females". Science. 304 (5670): 426–89. doi:10.1126/science.304.5670.489. PMID 15105461.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Bell Burnell, S. Jocelyn (1977). "Petit Four – After Dinner Speech published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science Dec 1977". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 302: 685–689. Bibcode:1977NYASA.302..685B. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1977.tb37085.x.
- Bell, Susan Jocelyn (1968). The Measurement of radio source diameters using a diffraction method. repository.cam.ac.uk (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. doi:10.17863/CAM.4926. OCLC 500382385. EThOS uk.bl.ethos.449485.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Bertsch McGrayne, Sharon (1998). Nobel Prize women in science: their lives, struggles, and momentous discoveries (Rev. ed.). Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group. ISBN 978-0-8065-2025-4. OCLC 39633911.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- "Cosmic Search Vol. 1, No. 1 – Little Green Men, White Dwarfs or Pulsars?".
- "Council". Institute of Physics. Archived from the original on 9 March 2011.
- "Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell". The Life Scientific. 25 October 2011. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
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- "The discovery of pulsars". Horizon. BBC. 1 September 2010. BBC Two.
- "Dr Gavin Burnell: Associate Professor in Condensed Matter Physics". Condensed Matter Physics Group, University of Leeds. 2010. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
- Eisberg, Joann (1997). "Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943–)". In Shearer, Benjamin F.; Shearer, Barbara (eds.). Notable Women in the Physical Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary. Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press. pp. 9–14. ISBN 978-0-313-29303-0.
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- "Hawking receives Einstein Award". Physics Today. 31 (4): 68. April 1978. Bibcode:1978PhT....31d..68.. doi:10.1063/1.2995004.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell, researcher on the staff of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of University College London, is the recipient of the 1978 J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize.
- "Herschel Medal Winners" (PDF). Royal Astronomical Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
- Hewish, A.; Bell, S. J.; Pilkington, J. D. H.; Scott, P. F.; Collins, R. A. (1968). "Observation of a Rapidly Pulsating Radio Source". Nature. 217 (5130): 709. Bibcode:1968Natur.217..709H. doi:10.1038/217709a0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link) For the follow-up paper, see Pilkington et al. 1968.
- "IOP and Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell launch new fund to encourage greater diversity in physics". Institute of Physics. 2019.
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A Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics can be awarded by the Selection Committee at any time, and in addition to the regular Breakthrough Prize awarded through the ordinary annual nomination process. Unlike the annual Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, the Special Prize is not limited to recent discoveries.
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- Freeview video "Tick, Tick, Pulsating Star: How I Wonder What You Are?" A Royal Institution Discourse by the Vega Science Trust (accessed 24 December 2007).
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- Irishwoman who discovered the "lighthouses of the universe" Irish Times profile.
| Chancellor of the University of Dundee