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Contemporary Issues Forum: Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Contemporary Issues Forum: Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a world-renowned astrophysicist who, as a postgraduate student in 1967, discovered pulsars, compact rotating stars that emit beams of radiation. The discovery has been described as “one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century.” However, her co-author and graduate professor, Anthony Hewish, received the Nobel Prize in physics without her also being recognized despite her significant and direct role in the discovery.  



In 2018, 51 years after her discovery, Bell Burnell was awarded the $3 million Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. This special prize can be awarded at any time in recognition of an extraordinary scientific achievement and is currently considered one of the most prestigious awards in the physics community. The prize committee not only cited her “detection of radio signals from rapidly spinning, super-dense neutron stars” but also her “lifetime of inspiring scientific leadership.” Alongside her scientific achievements, Bell Burnell has become a widely respected leader in the larger scientific community. She has played an instrumental role in ensuring equal access to science for people from underrepresented groups and has committed to donating the entire $3 million prize to this important purpose.

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