Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell BurnellDBEFRSFRSEFRASFInstP (/bɜːrˈnɛl/; 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 despite the fact that she was the first to observe the pulsars, 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 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.
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.
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.
In July 1967, she detected a bit of "scruff" on her chart-recorder papers that tracked across the sky with the stars. 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 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 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, 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!
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.
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.
Bell Burnell served on the Quaker Peace and Social WitnessTestimonies 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.
Eisberg, Joann (1997). "Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943–)". In Shearer, Benjamin F.; Shearer, Barbara. Notable Women in the Physical Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary. Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press. pp. 9–14. ISBN978-0-313-29303-0.
"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.
Coroniti, Ferdinand V.; Williams, Gary A. (2006). "Jocelyn Bell Burnell". In Byers, Nina; Williams, Gary. Out of the Shadows: Contributions of Twentieth-Century Women to Physics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN978-0-521-82197-1.