Area of expertise: Astrophysics

Major contributions: Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell co-discovered the first radio pulsars back in 1967 when she was still a postgraduate student. It was thought to be one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century. While the discovery was recognized by the Nobel Prize committee, she was not one of the recipients of the award.

Notable recognitions:

  • 1978 – J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize
  • 1989 – Herschel Medal
  • 2010 – Michael Faraday Prize
  • 2015 – Royal Medal
  • 2018 – Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a pioneering astrophysicist and Nobel laureate who has made significant contributions to our understanding of the universe. Born in 1943 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Burnell received her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Glasgow and later earned her PhD in radio astronomy from the University of Cambridge.

Throughout her career, Burnell has focused on studying celestial objects and the ways in which they emit and absorb radiation. In 1967, while working as a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, Burnell discovered a new type of celestial object called a pulsar, which is a highly magnetized, rapidly rotating neutron star that emits regular bursts of radio waves. This discovery was revolutionary and helped to shed light on the nature of neutron stars and the processes that occur within them.

In 1974, Burnell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, along with Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle, for their pioneering work on radio pulsars. However, Burnell was not recognized for her role in the discovery of pulsars and was not included in the Nobel Prize citation. This oversight sparked a widespread debate about the role of women in science and the ways in which their contributions are recognized.

In addition to her research, Burnell has also been an influential mentor and advocate for diversity and inclusion in the scientific community. She has served as a role model for aspiring scientists and has worked to promote the participation of women and underrepresented groups in science.

Burnell’s contributions to the field of astrophysics have had a profound impact on our understanding of the universe and the processes that occur within it. Her dedication to scientific research and her advocacy for diversity and inclusion in the scientific community have inspired countless others to pursue careers in science and work to advance our understanding of the world.