Bell Burnell, (Susan) Jocelyn (1943–)

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a British observational astronomer known for her discovery of pulsars, for which her graduate advisor, Anthony Hewish, won the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Martin Ryle). Born in Belfast (her father was architect of the Armagh Observatory) and educated at York, Glasgow, and Cambridge, Bell (later Burnell) used a radio telescope at Cambridge that she helped build to detect a rapid set of pulses occurring at regular intervals. She determined that the unusual radio source lay beyond the Solar System and, over the next few months, discovered three more pulsating radio sources – pulsars – later found to be rapidly rotating neutron stars. She subsequently carried out research at gamma-ray, X-ray, infrared, and short radio wavelengths, and currently holds the chair of physics at the Open University in England.


Although Burnell shared the prestigious Michelson Award with Hewish in 1973, the Nobel Committee did not acknowledge her role in the discovery of pulsars when it awarded Ryle and Hewish the 1974 Nobel Prize "for their pioneering research in radio astrophysics. Ryle for his observations and inventions ... and Hewish for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars." Many distinguished astronomers, including Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold, and Jeremiah Ostriker, argued that Burnell should have shared the Nobel Prize. In 1993, when the award went to the discoverers of the first binary pulsar, both student and supervisor were recognized.