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Jocelyn Bell Burnell

AKA Susan Jocelyn Bell

Born: 15-Jul-1943
Birthplace: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Gender: Female
Religion: Quaker
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Astronomer

Nationality: Ireland
Executive summary: Co-Discoverer of pulsars

Irish astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell was a graduate student in astronomy at Cambridge studying the interplanetary scintillation of compact radio sources when, in 1967, she detected an unknown but very steady pattern of electromagnetic pulses from the cosmos. She determined that these radio signals were coming from a fixed location beyond our solar system, and over several months she identified three more distinct signals. Her thesis advisor, Antony Hewish, was bewildered by this, and in their earliest reports they referred to her findings as the "LGM " phenomenon, an allusion to "little green men" — the pattern was so steady and predictable they suspected that they might be receiving broadcasts from beacons established by an alien life form. Through an exhaustive process of elimination, Burnell and Hewish concluded that these unprecedented pulses of electromagnetic power are emitted from a specific type of collapsed star, degenerate neutron stars now called pulsars. The four signals Burnell detected were the first four known pulsars.

She has also studied gamma ray astronomy, infrared astronomy, neutron stars, and x-ray astronomy. The 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics was shared between Hewish and Martin Ryle, who had been Hewish's supervisor at the time of Burnell's discovery. Her exclusion from the Nobel honors is still considered by many to be among the more major oversights in the Prize's history.

Father: G. Philip Bell (architect)
Mother: M. Allison Bell
Husband: Martin Burnell (m. 1968, div. 1993, one son)
Son: Gavin Burnell (physicist)

    High School: Mount School, York, England (1961)
    University: BS Physics, University of Glasgow (1965)
    University: PhD Radio Astronomy, Cambridge University (1969)
    Scholar: Research Council Fellow, University of Southampton (1968-70)
    Teacher: Physics, University of Southampton (1970-73)
    Lecturer: Physics, Open University (1973-87)
    Fellow: Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London (1974-82)
    Fellow: Research Fellow, Royal Observatory Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh (1982-86)
    Fellow: Senior Science Fellow, Royal Observatory Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh (1986-91)
    Professor: Physics, Open University (1991-)

    Michelson Medal of the Franklin Institute 1973
    J. Robert Oppenheimer Prize 1978
    Rennie Taylor Award 1978
    AAS Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize 1987
    RAS Herschel Medal 1989
    NRAO Karl G. Jansky Prize 1995
    Commander of the British Empire 1999
    APS Magellanic Premium 2000
    UK Official Science and Engineering Research Council, 1978-84
    American Astronomical Society Foreign Member
    Institute of Physics Foreign Member
    International Astronomical Union 1979
    Royal Astronomical Society 1969
    Royal Astronomical Society Vice President, 1995-97
    Irish Ancestry

Author of books:
Next Generation Infrared Space Observatory (1992, astrophysics; with John Keith Davies and R. S. Stobie)


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