Saturday, 24 May 2014

WISE: Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was born in 1943 on the 15th July, was a Northern Irish astrophysicist. She ended up being credited with one of the most significant discoveries of the twentieth century whilst she was completing her postgraduate studies.

At a young age Burnell had read a lot of books on astronomy and her interest on the topic was always encouraged by the Armagh Observatory, where her father worked. She ended up attending Lurgan College and then earned a degree in Physics from Glasgow University, Scotland, in 1965. In 1969, she completed her PhD from the University of Cambridge.

In her first two years of studying there, Bell assisted in the construction of an 81.5 – megahertz radio telescope that was going to be used to track quasars, a distant source of energy that give off huge amount of radiation. In 1967, the telescope first went into operation and it was Bell’s job to operate the telescope and to analyse over 120 metres of chart paper that was produced by the telescope every four days. After analysing this data over several weeks Bell had noticed something unusual about the markings that were on the chart. These marking had been made by a radio source that was too fast and regular to be a quasar. Its signal only took up about 2.5 centimetres of the 121.8 metres of the chart paper but Bell had recognised the importance of it. She had detected evidence of the first pulsar. The work was published in the February of 1968.

In the same year Bell’s work as published she married Martin Burnell, who was a government worker. His work ended up making them travel around England. Burnell worked part time while she looked after their son, Gavin Burnell. During this time she started studying almost every wave spectrum. in astronomy and gained extensive experience. In 1970 - 972 she held a junior teaching fellowship in Southampton University. It was here she developed and calibrated a 1-10 million electron gamma ray telescope. She also held research and teaching positions in x-ray astronomy at Mullard Space Science Laboratory in London, and in Edinburgh she studied infrared astronomy. 

Burnell didn't end up sharing the Nobel Prize with Hewish - her thesis supervisor - for the discovery of pulsars but she ended up gaining numerous different awards. She was chosen to be a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1969 and has now served as it's Vice President. She's also won the Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize from the American Astronomical Society in 1987, which recognises the outstanding research contribution to astronomy or astrophysics. She also won the Herschel Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1989 which is awarded for outstanding work in the area of observational astrophysics  astrophysics and has won many other awards. 

Currently, Jocelyn Burnell in a Visiting Professor of Astrophysics as the University of Oxford and is a Fellow of Masfield College. she is also the current President of the Institute of Physics 

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a women who never stopped achieving and believes that there should be more women in science. 

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