Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS FRSE FRAS FInstP (; born 15 July 1943) is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967. The discovery was recognised by the award of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics but, despite being the first person to discover the pulsars, she 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".
Early life and education
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.
Bell Burnell was the subject of the first part of the BBC Four three-part series Beautiful Minds, directed by Jacqui Farnham.
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!
Her publications[d] include:
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, between the discovery of the second and third pulsar, Bell became engaged to Martin Burnell and they married soon after; the couple divorced in 1993 after separating in 1989. In a 2021 online lecture at the University of Bedfordshire, Bell Burnell reflected on her first experience returning to the observatory wearing an engagement ring. Though she was proud of her ring and wanted to share the good news with her colleagues, she instead received criticism as, at the time, it was shameful for women to work as it appeared that their partners were incapable of providing for the family. 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.
- ^ Jocelyn Bell Burnell publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
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- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (2007). "Pulsars 40 Years on". Science. 318 (5850): 579–581. doi:10.1126/science.1150039. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17962545. S2CID 120774849.
- 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.
- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (15 November 2013a). Pulsars and Extreme Physics. TU Wien. Retrieved 10 September 2019 – via YouTube.
- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (8 November 2019). 23rd Annual Katzenstein Distinguished Lecture. University of Connecticut. Retrieved 10 November 2019 – via YouTube.
- Bell Burnell, Jocelyn (13 February 2020). "The Discovery Of Pulsars - A graduate student's tale" – via YouTube.
- 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. S2CID 43369972.
- 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. S2CID 222086632.
- 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.
- 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 – via Internet Archive.
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- "Cosmic Search Vol. 1, No. 1 – Little Green Men, White Dwarfs or Pulsars?".
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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 – via Internet Archive.
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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. S2CID 4277613. 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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- Pilkington, J. D. H.; Hewish, A.; Bell, S. J.; Cole, T. W. (1968). "Observations of some further Pulsed Radio Sources". Nature. 218 (5137): 126. Bibcode:1968Natur.218..126P. doi:10.1038/218126a0. S2CID 4253103. For the first paper (announcing the discovery), see Hewish et al. 1968.
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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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