Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Launch of IYA 2009, Paris - Grygar, Bell Burnell cropped.jpg
Bell Burnell in 2009
BornSusan Jocelyn Bell
(1943-07-15) 15 July 1943 (age 75)[1]
Lurgan, Northern Ireland[2]
Alma mater
Known forCo-discovering the first four pulsars[3]
Martin Burnell
(m. 1968; div. 1993)
ChildrenGavin Burnell
Scientific career
ThesisThe Measurement of radio source diameters using a diffraction method (1968)
Doctoral advisorAntony Hewish[4][5][6]
  • Fred Hoyle Frontiers of Astronomy (1955)
  • Henry Tillott[7] (her school physics teacher)

Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS FRSE FRAS FInstP (l/; born 15 July 1943) is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967.[9] She was credited with "one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century".[10] The discovery was recognised by the award of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics, but despite the fact that she was the first to observe and precisely analyse the pulsars,[11] Bell was excluded from the recipients of the prize.

The paper announcing the discovery of pulsars had five authors. Bell's thesis supervisor Antony Hewish[5][6] was listed first, Bell second. Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize, along with the astronomer Martin Ryle. Many prominent astronomers criticised Bell's omission,[12] including Sir Fred Hoyle.[13][14] 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."[15] The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in its press release announcing the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics,[16] 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 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. She gave the whole of the £2.3m prize money to help women, ethnic minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.[17][18]

Education and early life

Jocelyn Bell, June 1967

Jocelyn Bell was born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, to M. Allison and G. Philip Bell.[2][1] Her father was an architect who had helped design the Armagh Planetarium,[19] and during visits she was encouraged by the staff to pursue astronomy professionally.[20] 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,[2] 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.[22]

She failed the eleven-plus exam and her parents sent her to The Mount School,[1] 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.[23]

Bell Burnell was the subject of the first part of the BBC Four three-part series Beautiful Minds, directed by Jacqui Farnham.[24]

Other Languages
български: Джослин Бел
català: Jocelyn Bell
français: Jocelyn Bell
italiano: Jocelyn Bell
Lëtzebuergesch: Jocelyn Bell Burnell
norsk nynorsk: Jocelyn Bell Burnell
occitan: Jocelyn Bell
Simple English: Jocelyn Bell Burnell
slovenčina: Jocelyn Burnellová
српски / srpski: Џослин Бел Бернел
svenska: Jocelyn Bell
Tiếng Việt: Jocelyn Bell Burnell