Jocelyn Bell Burnell

“If we assume we’ve arrived: we stop searching, we stop developing.”
―Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dr. Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (born 1943) is a Northern Irish astrophysicist, who, as a 24-year old graduate student, discovered the phenomenon known as pulsars (signals from tiny but extremely dense dead star remnants called neutron stars) while working with a team of researchers under supervision of her advisor, Antony Hewish. The paper announcing the discoveryhad five authors (Hewish’s name being listed first, Bell’s second), but when Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize for astronomy (along with fellow astronomer Martin Ryle), Jocelyn was not included. Many critics of this decision began to call it the “No Bell Prize.” Her attitude to the snub has been admirable, to say the least: “You can actually do extremely well out of not getting a Nobel prize, and I have had so many prizes, and so many honors, and so many awards, that actually, I think I’ve had far more fun than if I’d got a Nobel Prize – which is a bit flash in the pan: You get it, you have a fun week, and it’s all over, and nobody gives you anything else after that, cos they feel they can’t match it.

On top of the many honors Jocelyn Bell has achieved in her long teaching career: She was President of the Royal Astronomical Society, President of the Institute of Physics,  President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Pro-Chancellor of the University of Dublin, she is  currently the  President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a visiting Professor of Astrophysics at  Oxford University. Not bad for getting ahead anyway!

 

Artist’s note: I love this picture because I think she looks like a Judy Blume character from my own younger years. Why shouldn’t a smart girl follow her dreams of learning and be rewarded for it? This determined, happy face says there’s no reason at all!

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