Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Infobox Scientist
name = Jocelyn Bell Burnell
box_width =

image_size = 200
caption = Jocelyn Bell Burnell, "circa" 1975
birth_date = birth date and age|1943|07|15|df=y
birth_place = Northern Ireland
death_date =
death_place =
residence =
citizenship = British
nationality = British
ethnicity =
field = Astrophysics
work_institutions =
alma_mater = Glasgow (BSc), Cambridge (PhD)
doctoral_advisor = Antony Hewish
doctoral_students =
known_for = Discovering the first four Pulsars
author_abbrev_bot =
author_abbrev_zoo =
influences = Fred Hoyle "Frontiers of Astronomy" (1955)
influenced = Many women to develop careers in science.
prizes = Fellow of the Royal Society (March 2003)
religion = Quaker
footnotes =

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, DBE, FRS, FRAS (born Susan Jocelyn Bell on 15 July 1943) is an astrophysicist who, as a postgraduate student, discovered the first radio pulsars with her thesis advisor Antony Hewish, for which he won a Nobel Prize.

The paper announcing the discovery had five authors, Hewish's name being listed first, Bell's second. Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize, along with Martin Ryle, without the inclusion of Bell as a co-recipient, which was controversial, and was roundly condemned by Hewish's fellow astronomer Fred Hoyle.cite news | title = No Nobel Prize for Whining | author = Judson, Horace | date = 2003-10-20 | url = | publisher = "New York Times" | accessdate = 2007-08-03 ] Others,who? however, have noted that the prize was given to Ryle and Hewish for their work across the field of radio-astronomy as a whole, with particular mention of Ryle's work on aperture-synthesis, and Hewish's on pulsars.

Background and family life

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where her father was an architect for the nearby Armagh Planetarium, [cite news
last = Johnston
first = Colin
title = Pulsar Pioneer visits us
work = Astronotes
pages = 2-3
publisher = Armagh Planetarium
date = March 2007
url =
accessdate = 2007-07-10
] she enjoyed a large library and was encouraged to read. She was especially drawn to the books on astronomy. She attended Lurgan College and lived in Lurgan as a child. She was one of the first girls at the college permitted to study science. Previously, the girls' curriculum had included cross-stitch and cookery. At eleven, she failed the 11+ exam and her parents sent her to the Mount School, York, a Quaker girls' boarding school. [At Mount School 1956 – 61. She is the 2007 President of the [ Old Scholars' Association.] ] There she was impressed by a physics teacher who taught her:

::"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."

She married Martin Burnell in 1968, and they have one son, Gavin, born in 1973, and two grandsons.

Academic career

She graduated from the University of Glasgow with a B.Sc. in physics in 1965 and received her Ph.D. from New Hall (renamed Murray Edwards College) of the University of Cambridge in 1969. At Cambridge, she worked with Hewish and others to construct ["...upon entering the faculty, each student was issued a set of tools: a pair of plyers, a pair on long-nose plyers, a wire cutter, and a screwdriver...", said during a public lecture in Montreal during the 40 Years of Pulsars conference, August 14, 2007] 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). Detecting a bit of "scruff" on her chart recorder papers that tracked across the sky with the stars, Bell Burnell found that the signal was regularly pulsing, about once each second. Temporarily dubbed "Little Green Man 1" the source was eventually identified as a rapidly rotating neutron star.

After finishing her PhD, Bell Burnell 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 also a tutor, consultant, examiner and lecturer for the Open University.cite web
title = Jocelyn Bell Burnell
publisher = Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics (CWP)
url =,_Jocelyn_Bell@841234567.html
accessdate = 2007-07-07
(biography at UCLA)] In 1991 she was appointed Professor of Physics at the Open University, a position she held for ten years. She was also a visiting professor at Princeton University. Before retiring Bell Burnell was Dean of Science at the University of Bath between 2001 and 2004, [ [ University of Bath Press Release, announcing Bell Burnell's retirement] ] and was President of the Royal Astronomical Society between 2002 and 2004. She is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Mansfield College. [cite web
title = Queen's Birthday Honours 2007
publisher = University of Oxford
date = 18 June 2007
url =
accessdate = 2007-07-10
] She has been elected President of the Institute of Physics for the year commencing October 2008 [ [ IoP website>Governance>Council. (accessed 1 May 2008)] ] .

Non-academic life

Bell is the house patron of Burnell House at Cambridge House Grammar School in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, and sits on the Advisory Board of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. She also gained a diploma of FRSM for piano playing.

She has campaigned to improve the status and number of women in professional and academic posts in the fields of physics and astronomy. [ [ Article by Bell Burnell in "Science":"So Few Pulsars, So Few Females" 23 April 2004: Vol. 304. no. 5670, p. 489] See also [ Belfast Telegraph's interview, at this time.] ]

Quaker activities and beliefs

From her school days, Bell has remained 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", [Details of the print version of the lecture are given in the Bibliography ] at Yearly Meeting in Aberdeen on August 1 1989, and was the plenary speaker at the U..S. Friends General Conference Gathering in 2000.

Bell revealed her personal religious history and beliefs in an interview with Joan Bakewell in 2006. [ [ Transcript of interview by Joan Bakewell for the BBC Radio 3 series "Belief" (2 January 2006)] ] She served on the Quaker Peace and Social Witness Testimonies Committee, which produced "Engaging with the Quaker Testimonies: a Toolkit" in February 2007, ["Engaging with the Quaker Testimonies: a Toolkit", 2007 ISBN 0-90168959-9] and wrote the introductory essay. She was appointed Clerk of the Central Executive Committee of Friends World Committee for Consultation for 2008-2012, in August 2007.


Although she didn't share the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics with Hewish for her discovery, she has been honoured by many other organisations:

*Michelson Medal of the Franklin Institute (1973, jointly with Hewish). [ [ Franklin Institute citation] ]
*J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize from the Center for Theoretical Studies in Miami (1978).
*Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize of the American Astronomical Society (1987).
*Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1989).
*Karl G. Jansky Lectureship of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory(1995). [ [| Official list of Jansky Lecturers] ]
*Magellanic Premium of the American Philosophical Society (2000). [ [ Official list of Premium winners] ]
*Fellow of the Royal Society (March 2003). [ [ Royal Society article about Bell Burnell, with portrait] ] She has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, for instance, recently:
*In 2007 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Harvard University. [ [ Honorary degrees awarded at Commencement’s Morning Exercises, Harvard Crimson, June 7, 2007] ]
*On 23 June 2007, Bell Burnell was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Durham.

She also holds important awards in the British honours system. In 1999 Bell Burnell received a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II. In June 2007 she was awarded a DBE (equivalent to a male knighthood). [ [,,2104409,00.html "Guardian" Commentary on the Birthday Honours, 16 June 2007] ]

Further reading

*cite book
last = Burnell
first = S. Jocelyn
title = Broken for Life
publisher = Quaker Home Service
year = 1989
location = London
pages = 58pp
isbn = 0-85245-222-5
(Swarthmore Lecture)Scientific papers
*cite journal
last = Hewish
first = Antony
authorlink = Antony Hewish
coauthors = S J Bell, J D H Pilkington, P F Scott, R A Collins
title = Observation of a Rapidly Pulsating Radio Source
journal = Nature
volume = 217
issue =
pages = 709–713
date = 24 February 1968
url =
doi =
id =
accessdate = 2007-07-06

*cite journal
last = J D H Pilkington
first =
authorlink =
coauthors = A Hewish, S J Bell, T W Cole
title = Observations of some further Pulsed Radio Sources
journal = Nature
volume = 218
issue =
pages = 126–129
date = 13 April 1968
url =
doi =
id =
accessdate = 2007-07-06
For additional titles "See" Reference


External links


* [ Freeview video 'Tick, Tick, Pulsating Star: How I Wonder What You Are?' A Royal Institution Discourse by the Vega Science Trust] (accessed 24 December 2007).
* [ Four video clips in which Bell Burnell gives a brief answer to the following questions: Having made a monumental discovery in science, how does that affect one's latter career? What was the process for discovering pulsars? Were you looking for them based on a theory, or were you trying to clarify a phenomenon? Where are your research interests focussed at the moment?What future discoveries do you expect in Astronomy? (BBC/Open University Masters of Science website)] (accessed 24 December 2007).


* [ Counterbalance Library: Bell Burnell talk “ Science and the Spiritual Quest” (24 Minutes)] (Not accessible 24 December 2007).


* [,_Jocelyn_Bell@841234567.html Contributions of 20th C women to physics: Burnell article. Procided by University of California at Los Angeles.]
* Ferdinand V. Coroniti and Gary A. Williams (2006), "Jocelyn Bell Burnell" in [ "Out of the Shadows: Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics"] , Nina Byers and Gary Williams, ed., Cambridge University Press.
* ['EC/2003/05'&dsqDb=Catalog Catalogue entry of Royal Society citation] (accessed 24 December 2007).
* [ Gale - Free Resources: Article on Bell Burnell from "Encyclopedia of World Biography" 1998.] (Accessed 24 December 2007).
* [ UK Resource Centre for Women in Science Engineering Technology biographical webpage.] (Accessed 24 December 2007).
* [ Biographical article, indicating Bell Burnell's beliefs and personal life, from California State Polytechnic University NOVA project.] (Accessed 24 December 2007).
* [ Women in Science]

*cite news
title = Northern Star
work = Programme information
pages = 7-8
publisher = BBC Northern Ireland
date = 13 June 2007
url =
accessdate = 2007-07-05
(TV Documentary on Jocelyn Bell Burnell's life) (Not accessible online 24 December 2007).


* [ - An after-dinner speech by Jocelyn Bell Burnell] on her life and the discovery of pulsars (accessed 24 December 2007).
* [ Transcript of interview by Joan Bakewell for the BBC Radio 3 series "Belief" (2 January 2006)] (accessed 24 December 2007).

NAME=Bell Burnell, Jocelyn
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Bell, Susan Jocelyn; Bell Burnell, Professor Jocelyn; Bell Burnell, Dame Jocelyn; Burnell, Jocelyn (prior to divorce).
SHORT DESCRIPTION=astronomer, teacher, physicist
DATE OF BIRTH= 15 July 1943
PLACE OF BIRTH= Northern Ireland

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