IOP president confers medal upon Jocelyn Bell Burnell

18 July 2017

The President’s Medal of the IOP was conferred on Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell in a ceremony yesterday during the International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP) in Birmingham.

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell


The medal is given entirely at the discretion of the IOP’s president to recognise and honour outstanding contributions to physics. It was presented personally by the president of the Institute, Professor Roy Sambles, who commented: “Awarding the President's Medal is one of the great pleasures of being president of the Institute of Physics – rewarding a lifetime of outstanding contributions to, and leadership within, physics.

“Jocelyn is a groundbreaking researcher, an inspirational leader within our community and a distinguished ambassador for physics – particularly for widening participation. She is a most deserving recipient and it is an honour to recognise her superlative career with this medal.”

Bell Burnell, an honorary fellow of the Institute who served as the IOP’s president from 2008–10 and was the first woman in the role, received the medal 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”.

She famously discovered the first four pulsars while a PhD student in Cambridge – an achievement that contributed to the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics to Professor Antony Hewish and Professor Martin Ryle in 1974.

Her citation notes: “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.”

The citation also mentions her “unparalleled record of leadership within the physics and astronomy communities”, including her periods of service as president of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the IOP, and her tireless work as a promoter and communicator of astrophysics. It also commends her as a champion in encouraging women to study the physical sciences, noting her contribution to establishing the Athena SWAN awards for commitment to advancing the careers of women in science and that 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.

Following the medal presentation, Bell Burnell gave a talk reflecting on being a woman in physics in the UK over the past 50 years, on making a significant astrophysical discovery and on combining professional and family life.

ICWIP, which has been organised by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics in partnership with the IOP and the universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Warwick, is running from 16–20 July.

The conference has attracted speakers and contributors from around the globe and includes a plenary lecture by Professor Dame Athene Donald, an honorary fellow of the IOP, as well as contributions as session or workshop leaders from former IOP Council member Professor Averil Macdonald, current Council member Dr Barbara Gabrys, the chair of the IOP’s Juno Assessment Panel, Professor Val Gibson, IOP Early Career Physics Communicator Award winner Dr Jessica Wade and publishing editors from IOP Publishing Bethan Davis and Jess Thorn.

The IOP’s head of diversity, Jenni Dyer, contributed posters on Project Juno and LGBT+, and the IOP’s improving gender balance manager pre-19, Jessica Rowson, contributed a poster on improving gender balance.

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