Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

For her outstanding contributions to physics through pioneering research in astronomy, most notably the discovery of the first pulsars, and through her unparalleled record of leadership within the community.

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell famously discovered the first four pulsars – one of the constituent discoveries that led to the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics to Martin Ryle and Antony Hewish in 1974.

It was very much as a result of her persistence that these exotic and unexpected objects were first recognised.

In the years following this discovery, pulsars became increasingly significant, and opened up a new branch of astrophysics. They have since become one of the most powerful quantitative tools in astrophysics for exploring extreme physics and testing general relativity.

Bell Burnell has an unparalleled record of leadership within the physics and astronomy communities, having served as presidents of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Institute of Physics. She is a tireless promoter and communicator of astrophysics, as evidenced numerous media appearances and the high volume of public lectures given all across the globe.

She was one of a group of senior female scientists whose efforts led to the creation of the Athena SWAN awards recognising commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, and she is a renowned champion in the area of encouraging women to study the physical sciences. In 2016 the Institute’s Very Early Career Female Physicist Award, made by the IOP Women in Physics Group, was renamed the Jocelyn Bell Burnell prize in her honour.

Bell Burnell is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute and a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1999, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to astronomy, and advanced to Dame Commander (DBE) in 2007.

Other previous honours include the Royal Astronomical’s Herschel Medal in 1989, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 2015, and the Women of the Year Prudential Lifetime Achievement Award that same year. Bell Burnell has been awarded honorary degrees from some 36 institutions.