Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell looks back on discovery 40 years later
McGill University is pleased to announce that Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the renowned astrophysicist credited with discovering the first pulsar, will be presenting the public lecture “In pursuit of pulsars” on August 14 at 6:45 pm in the Leacock Building, 855 Sherbrooke Street West, Room 132.
In the summer of 1967, then 24-year-old Cambridge PhD student Jocelyn Bell was part of a team constructing a radio telescope under the supervision of Professor Antony Hewish. While analyzing data from the telescope’s chart recorder, Bell Burnell detected “scruff” that moved across the sky with the stars. To her amazement, the data suggested the signal was emanating from a celestial object and that it appeared to be pulsing on and off. After finding four more such signals, the objects were positively identified as rapidly rotating neutron stars and the term “pulsar” (pulsing star) was coined.
In 1974, Prof. Antony Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the work that led to the discovery of pulsars. Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s exclusion from the prize was a matter of some controversy at the time, though the discovery of pulsars today is unequivocally attributed to both Hewish and Bell Burnell.
Prof. Bell Burnell went on to become one of the most respected scientists in Britain. A Fellow of the Royal Society, she is a Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University. In June 2007, she was named a Dame of the Order of the British Empire. Last summer, she chaired the proceedings of the International Astronomical Union in Prague, Czech Republic, during which the historic decision was made to “demote” Pluto from the status of planet.
Prof. Bell Burnell’s lecture will be presented as part of the McGill conference 40 Years of Pulsars: Millisecond Pulsars, Magnetars and More (August 13-17). In the audience will be her former mentor, Nobel laureate Prof. Antony Hewish.