Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS FRSE FRAS FInstP (/bɜːrˈnɛl/; née Bell; born 15 July 1943) is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967.[9][10] The discovery eventually earned the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974; however, she was not one of the prize's recipients.[11]

Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Bell Burnell in 2009
Susan Jocelyn Bell

(1943-07-15) 15 July 1943 (age 80)[4]
Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland[5][6]
Alma mater
Known forCo-discovering the first four pulsars[7]
Martin Burnell
(m. 1968; div. 1993)
ChildrenGavin Burnell
Scientific career
ThesisThe Measurement of radio source diameters using a diffraction method (1968)
Doctoral advisorAntony Hewish[1][2][3]

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 interim president of the Institute following the death of her successor, Marshall Stoneham, in early 2011. She was Chancellor of the University of Dundee from 2018 to 2023.

In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. Following the announcement of the award, she decided to use the $3 million (£2.3 million) prize money to establish a fund to help female, minority and refugee students to become research physicists. The fund is administered by the Institute of Physics.[12][13][14][15]

In 2021, Bell Burnell became the second female recipient (after Dorothy Hodgkin in 1976) of the Copley Medal.[16]

Early life and education edit

Jocelyn Bell, June 1967

Bell Burnell was born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, to M. Allison and G. Philip Bell.[5][6][4] Their country home was called "Solitude" and she grew up there with her younger brother and two younger sisters.[17] Her father was an architect who helped design the Armagh Planetarium,[18] and during her visits there, the staff encouraged her to pursue a career in astronomy.[19] She also enjoyed her father's books on astronomy.

She grew up in Lurgan and attended the Preparatory Department[a] of Lurgan College from 1948 to 1956.[5] At the time, boys could study technical subjects, but girls were expected to study subjects such as cooking and cross-stitching. Bell Burnell was able to study science only after her parents and others challenged the school's policies.[21][22]

She failed the eleven-plus exam and her parents sent her to The Mount School,[4] a Quaker girls' boarding school in York, England, where she completed her secondary education in 1961.[17] 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]

She next joined the University of Glasgow, where in 1965 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Philosophy (physics), with honours, and then New Hall, Cambridge, where she gained a PhD in 1969.[4]

At Cambridge, she worked with Antony Hewish and others to construct[b] the Interplanetary Scintillation Array just outside Cambridge to study quasars, which had recently been discovered.[c]

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

Career and research edit

Chart on which Burnell first recognised evidence of a pulsar, exhibited at Cambridge University Library
Composite Optical/X-ray image of the Crab Nebula, showing synchrotron emission in the surrounding pulsar wind nebula, powered by injection of magnetic fields and particles from the central pulsar
Bell Burnell attends the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting at Pasadena, California, 5 January 1987

On 28 November 1967, while a postgraduate student at Cambridge, Bell Burnell 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.[25] 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.[26] In a 2020 lecture at Harvard, she related how the media was covering the discovery of 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.[27] The Daily Telegraph science reporter shortened "pulsating radio source" to pulsar.[27]

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.[28] In 1986, she became the project manager for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, a position she held until 1991.[29][30] 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),[31] and President of the Royal Astronomical Society between 2002 and 2004.

Bell Burnell was visiting professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Mansfield College in 2007.[32] She was President of the Institute of Physics between 2008 and 2010.[33] In February 2018 she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Dundee.[34] In 2018, Bell Burnell visited Parkes, NSW, to deliver the keynote John Bolton lecture at the Central West Astronomical Society (CWAS) AstroFest event.[35][36]

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.[37] The Special Prize, in contrast to the regular annual prize, is not restricted to recent discoveries.[38] She donated all of the money "to fund women, under-represented ethnic minority and refugee students to become physics researchers",[39] the funds to be administered by the Institute of Physics.[13]

Issued in July 2022, Ulster Bank's new science-themed polymer £50 bank note prominently features Bell Burnell alongside other women, including those working in NI's life sciences industry.[40] She said, "I'm passionate about encouraging more women to pursue scientific careers and I think it's something that is very important for Northern Ireland. There is a burgeoning scientific sector here. More women pursuing careers in science will support that ongoing growth."[6]

Nobel Prize controversy edit

Controversially, Bell did not receive recognition in the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics. She helped build the Interplanetary Scintillation Array over two years[8] 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 initially insisted it was due to interference and man-made. She spoke of meetings held by Hewish and Ryle to which she was not invited.[41][22]

The paper announcing the discovery of pulsars had five authors. Bell's thesis supervisor Antony Hewish[2][3] was listed first, Bell second. Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize, along with the astronomer Martin Ryle. At the time fellow astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle criticised Bell's omission.[42][43][44] In 1977, Bell Burnell commented, "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."[45] The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in its press release announcing the prize,[46] 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.

Feryal Özel, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona, characterized Bell Burnell's contributions as follows:

She helped build the array she used to make the observation. She is the one who noticed it. She is the one who argued it's a real signal. When a graduate student takes that kind of lead in her project, it's hard to play it down.[13]

In later years, she opined that "the fact that I was a graduate student and a woman, together, demoted my standing in terms of receiving a Nobel prize."[22] The decision continues to be debated to this day.

Awards edit

Honours edit

Species named in her honour edit

A new nudibranch species Cadlina bellburnellae was named in honour of Jocelyn Bell Burnell][1]

Publications edit

Her publications[d] include:

  • Burnell, S. Jocelyn (1989). Broken for Life. Swarthmore Lecture. London: Quaker Home Service. ISBN 978-0-85245-222-6.
  • Riordan, Maurice; Burnell, S. Jocelyn (27 October 2008). Dark Matter: Poems of Space. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. ISBN 978-1-903080-10-8.

Personal and non-academic life edit

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.[82][83]

Quaker activities and beliefs edit

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. Bell Burnell also served as Clerk of the Central Executive Committee of Friends World Committee for Consultation from 2008 to 2012. She delivered a Swarthmore Lecture under the title Broken for Life,[84] at Yearly Meeting in Aberdeen on 1 August 1989, and was the plenary speaker at the US Friends General Conference Gathering in 2000.[85] She spoke of her personal religious history and beliefs in an interview with Joan Bakewell in 2006.[86]

Bell Burnell served on the Quaker Peace and Social Witness Testimonies Committee, which produced Engaging with the Quaker Testimonies: a Toolkit in February 2007.[87] 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.[88]

Marriage edit

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.[89] 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 their son, Gavin Burnell, who is a member of the condensed matter physics group at the University of Leeds.[90]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ The Preparatory Department of Lurgan College closed in 2004,[20] the college becoming a selective grammar school for ages 14–19.
  2. ^ "... 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
  3. ^ Interplanetary scintillation allows compact sources to be distinguished from extended ones.[citation needed]
  4. ^ Jocelyn Bell Burnell publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)

Citations edit

  1. ^ Bell 1968.
  2. ^ a b Hewish et al. 1968, p. 709.
  3. ^ a b Pilkington et al. 1968, p. 126.
  4. ^ a b c d e Who's Who 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Lurgan Mail 2007.
  6. ^ a b c Bain 2022.
  7. ^ Bell Burnell 2007, pp. 579–581.
  8. ^ a b The Life Scientific 2011.
  9. ^ Cosmic Search Vol. 1.
  10. ^ Hargittai 2003, p. 240.
  11. ^ Tesh & Wade 2017, pp. 31–33.
  12. ^ Sample 2018.
  13. ^ a b c Kaplan & Farzan 2018.
  14. ^ Ghosh 2019.
  15. ^ IoP 2019.
  16. ^ a b BBC: Copley 2021.
  17. ^ a b McGrayne 1993, pp. 359–379.
  18. ^ Johnston 2007, pp. 2–3.
  19. ^ Bertsch McGrayne 1998.
  20. ^ Lurgan College history.
  21. ^ Kaufman 2016.
  22. ^ a b c Proudfoot 2021.
  23. ^ Interview at NRAO 1995.
  24. ^ BBC 2011b.
  25. ^ Schilling 2017.
  26. ^ BBC 2010.
  27. ^ a b Bell Burnell 2020.
  28. ^ Jocelyn Bell Burnell profile.
  29. ^ Yount 2007, p. 25.
  30. ^ Notable Women 1997.
  31. ^ University of Bath 2004.
  32. ^ UoO 2007.
  33. ^ Institute of Physics: Council.
  34. ^ Univ of Dundee 2018.
  35. ^ Warren & Thackray 2018.
  36. ^ CWAS 2018.
  37. ^ Merali 2018.
  38. ^ Breakthrough Prize 2018.
  39. ^ Ghosh 2018.
  40. ^ Friedberg 2022.
  41. ^ BBC 2011a.
  42. ^ Westly 2008.
  43. ^ Judson 2003.
  44. ^ McKie 2010.
  45. ^ NYAS 1977.
  46. ^ Nobelprize.org 1974.
  47. ^ Franklin Institute.
  48. ^ Fi.edu.
  49. ^ Walter 1982, p. 438.
  50. ^ AIoP 1978, p. 68.
  51. ^ Aas.org 1986.
  52. ^ RAS.
  53. ^ Jansky Home Page.
  54. ^ APS 2008.
  55. ^ The Royal Society.
  56. ^ Gold 2006.
  57. ^ QVMAG 2016.
  58. ^ Bell Burnell 2013a.
  59. ^ TU Wien 2013.
  60. ^ Royal Society.
  61. ^ Womenoftheyear.co.uk.
  62. ^ Institute of Physics 2017.
  63. ^ Académie des sciences 2018.
  64. ^ Ouellette 2018.
  65. ^ Bell Burnell 2019.
  66. ^ RAS Gold Medal 2021.
  67. ^ The Irish News 2021.
  68. ^ Astronomische Gesellschaft 2021.
  69. ^ Société astronomique de France 2023.
  70. ^ Addley 2007.
  71. ^ BBC 1970.
  72. ^ BBC News 2014.
  73. ^ BBC Scotland 2014.
  74. ^ IOP JBB Prize.
  75. ^ APS member election.
  76. ^ AAS 2020.
  77. ^ Brown 2020.
  78. ^ Shearing 2020.
  79. ^ TCD 2020.
  80. ^ Accademia nazionale delle scienze 2022.
  81. ^ RSoE 2023.
  82. ^ Bell Burnell 2004, pp. 426–489.
  83. ^ Allan 2015.
  84. ^ Burnell 1989.
  85. ^ Taraporevala 2020.
  86. ^ Bakewell 2010.
  87. ^ QPSW Testimonies Committee 2007, p. ?.
  88. ^ Bell Burnell 2013b, p. 11.
  89. ^ Bell Burnell 2021.
  90. ^ Condensed Matter Physics Group 2010.

Works cited edit

Further reading edit

External links edit

Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Dundee
Succeeded by