Astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered radio pulsars in 1967 – considered one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century.
Jocelyn Bell was born in Belfast in 1943. 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 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.
As a postgraduate research assistant at Cambridge, she aided in constructing a large radio telescope and while reviewing the printouts of her experiments monitoring quasars, discovered a series of extremely regular radio pulses.
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, she was excluded from the prize recipients.
Several prominent scientists protested her omission, though she maintained that the prize was presented appropriately given her student status at the time of the discovery.
Jocelyn has been a visiting professor at Princeton University, USA, Dean of Science at the University of Bath and President of the Royal Astronomical Society (2002-4). She was created Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1999 and Dame (DBE) in 2007.
Jocelyn is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford.
In 2018, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, deciding to give the whole of the £2.3m prize money to help women, ethnic minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.