Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943-)
Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is most well-known for the discovery of pulsars. As a child, she was introduced to astronomy by the many books in her father’s library. Fast forward to 1969 when she began work on her PhD at Cambridge University under the direction of Anthony Hewish, where she assisted in the construction of an 81.5-megahertz radio telescope that was to be used to track quasars. In July 1967, she detected “a bit of scruff” on her chart-recorder papers that tracked across the sky with the stars. The signal was pulsing with great regularity, at a rate of about one pulse per second. Fun Fact: When they were not sure what caused these signals, Dame Jocelyn and her college advisor D. Anthony Hewish labeled the signal LGM for Little Green Men. They thought it could possibly be a beacon from an alien source. Several years later, it was identified as a rapidly rotating neutron star.
In her academic life, she has worked at the University of Southampton, University College London, and the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. She’s been a tutor, consultant, examiner, and lecturer for the Open University. She’s also been a visiting professor at Princeton University and the Dean of Science at the University of Bath, as well as President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002-2004. Currently, she is a Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Mansfield College.
In 1974, Dame Jocelyn did not receive recognition for the Nobel Prize in Physics, even though she was the individual who detected the first radio pulsar and assisted in building the four-care radio telescope over two years. (She sometimes reviewed as much as 96 feet of paper data per night!) The Nobel Prize was instead awarded to Antony Hewish (Dame Jocelyn's graduate student at the time) and Martin Ryle (a radio astronomer). In 2015, however, she was awarded the Prudential Lifetime Achievement Award and has won many other awards since 1973. In 1999, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Astronomy and promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2007.