Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell donates £2.3m physics prize

The money will fund, under-represented groups in physics.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell was born in Northern Ireland her father was an architect for the Armagh Observatory, where she spent much time as a child. She attended Lurgan College and obtained a Physics degree at Glasgow University, Scotland in 1965. In 1969 completed her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge

In 2018 Jocelyn was chosen by a panel of leading scientists to receive the $3m (£2.3m) special Breakthrough prize in fundamental physics for her landmark work on pulsars and a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community.

The discovery of pulsars was so dramatic it was awarded the Nobel prize in 1974. As a research student when the discovery was made, Jocelyn was not included in the Nobel prize citation - despite having been the first to observe and analyse the astronomical objects.

An inspiration for female scientists

Prof Bell Burnell's story has been both an inspiration and motivation for many female scientists

"I feel I’ve done very well out of not getting a Nobel prize," she said. "If you get a Nobel prize you have this fantastic week and then nobody gives you anything else. If you don’t get a Nobel prize you get everything that moves."

Jocelyn was the first female president of both the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and helped set up the Athena Swan programme, which is widely credited with improving the lives of women in academia.

Jocelyn donated her £2.3m winnings to the Institute of Physics to fund PhD studentships for people underrepresented in physics, to help fund women, under-represented ethnic minority and refugee students to become physics researchers.

A lot of the pulsar story happened because I was a minority person and a PhD student, she said. Increasing diversity in physics could lead to all sorts of good things.

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