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Jocelyn Bell Burnell

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Nationality  British
Role  Astronomer
Fields  Astrophysics
Children  Gavin Burnell
Doctoral advisor  Antony Hewish
Academic advisor  Antony Hewish
Name  Jocelyn Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell BBC Radio 4 Science Explorer Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Born  Susan Jocelyn Bell 15 July 1943 (age 72) Lurgan, Northern Ireland (1943-07-15)
Institutions  University of Cambridge University of Glasgow Open University University of Oxford
Alma mater  University of Glasgow New Hall, Cambridge
Thesis  The Measurement of radio source diameters using a diffraction method. (1968)
Spouse  Martin Burnell (m. 1968–1993)
Parents  G. Philip Bell, M. Allison Bell
Education  University of Glasgow, University of Cambridge, Murray Edwards College
Similar People  Antony Hewish, Martin Ryle, Rosalind Franklin, Lise Meitner, Chien‑Shiung Wu

We are made of star stuff jocelyn bell burnell at tedxvienna

Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS FRSE FRAS (born 15 July 1943) is a Northern Irish astrophysicist. As a postgraduate student, she discovered the first radio pulsars while studying and advised by her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish, for which Hewish shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with astronomer Martin Ryle. Bell Burnell was excluded, despite having been the first to observe and precisely analyse the pulsars. Bell Burnell was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002 to 2004, president of the Institute of Physics from October 2008 until October 2010, and was interim president following the death of her successor, Marshall Stoneham, in early 2011. She was succeeded in October 2011 by Sir Peter Knight. Bell Burnell was elected as President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in October 2014. In March 2013 she was elected Pro-Chancellor of the University of Dublin.


Jocelyn Bell Burnell Four women researchers who were overshadowed in the sciences

The paper announcing the discovery of pulsars had five authors. Hewish's name was listed first, Bell's second. Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize, along with Martin Ryle, without the inclusion of Bell as a co-recipient. Many prominent astronomers criticised this omission, including Sir Fred Hoyle. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in their 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.

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Susan Jocelyn Bell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland to M. Allison and G. Philip. Her father was an architect who had helped design the Armagh Planetarium, and young Jocelyn soon discovered his books on astronomy.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell Jocelyn Bell Burnell Royal Society

She grew up in Lurgan and attended Lurgan College, 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, York, a Quaker girls' boarding school. There she was favourably impressed by her physics teacher, Mr. Tillott, and stated:

Jocelyn Bell Burnell Jocelyn Bell Burnell NYU Women in Science

You don't 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 3-part series Beautiful Minds, directed by Jacqui Farnham, in which her career and contributions to astronomy were explored.

Academic career

She graduated from the University of Glasgow with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Philosophy (physics) in 1965 and obtained a PhD degree from the University of Cambridge in 1969. At Cambridge, she attended New Hall (now Murray Edwards College), and worked with Hewish and others to construct a radio telescope for using interplanetary scintillation to study quasars, which had recently been discovered (interplanetary scintillation allows compact sources to be distinguished from extended ones).

In July 1967, she detected a bit of "scruff" on her chart-recorder papers that tracked across the sky with the stars. She discovered that the signal was pulsing with great regularity, at a rate of about one pulse per second. 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

She worked at the University of Southampton (1968–73), University College London (1974–82) and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (1982–91). In addition, from 1973 to 1987, she was a tutor, consultant, examiner, and lecturer for the Open University. She was Professor of Physics in the Open University from 1991 to 2001. She was also a visiting professor in Princeton University in the United States and Dean of Science in the University of Bath (2001–04), and President of the Royal Astronomical Society between 2002 and 2004.

She is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics in the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Mansfield College. She was President of the Institute of Physics between 2008 and 2010.

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 revealed her personal religious history and beliefs in an interview with Joan Bakewell in 2006.

She 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. Her husband was a government worker, and his career took them to various parts of England. 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.

Nobel Prize

The fact 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 four-acre radio telescope over two years and initially noticed the anomaly, sometimes reviewing as much as 96 feet of paper data per night. Bell later claimed 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, Bell commented on the issue:

"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).
  • Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) (March 2003).
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • She has also been awarded numerous honorary degrees, including:

  • Doctor of Science: Heriot-Watt University (1993), University of Warwick (1995), University of Newcastle (1995), University of Cambridge (1996), University of Glasgow (1997), University of Sussex (1997), University of St Andrews (1999), University of London (1999), Haverford College (2000), University of Leeds (2000), Williams College (2000), University of Portsmouth (2002), Queen's University, Belfast (2002), University of Edinburgh (2003), University of Keele (2005), Harvard University (2007), Durham University (2007), University of Michigan (2008), University of Southampton (2008), Trinity College, Dublin (2008), University of Hull (2015),Rutgers University (2016).
  • Doctor of the University: University of York (1994), Dublin City University (2015).
  • Honours

    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 made President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the first woman to hold that office.

    Selected works


  • Burnell, S. Jocelyn (1989). Broken for Life. London: Quaker Home Service. pp. 58pp. ISBN 0-85245-222-5.  (Swarthmore Lecture)
  • Riordan, Maurice; Burnell, S. Jocelyn (27 October 2008). Dark Matter: Poems of Space. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. ISBN 978-1903080108. 
  • References

    Jocelyn Bell Burnell Wikipedia