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Picture of Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell


Additional Information

Some Important Contributions

Discovered the first four pulsars. Using a radio telescope that she helped build as part of her Ph.D. dissertation, Bell (later Burnell) detected a rapid set of pulses occurring at regular intervals. She determined that the position of the unusual radio source remained fixed with respect to the stars, which meant that it was located beyond the solar system. During the course of the next few months, she discovered 3 more pulsating radio sources (or pulsars). These pulsars were later found to be rapi dly rotating neutron stars.

Research at several wavelengths (gamma ray, very short radio, infrared, X-ray) and on many astrophysical topics.

Main interest: the astrophysics of neutron stars.

Some Important Publications

"Observation of a Rapidly Pulsating Radio Source," Nature 217: 709 (1968), with A. Hewish, J.D.H. Pilkington, P.F. Scott, and R.A. Collins.
"Observations of Some Further Pulsed Radio Source," Nature 218: 126 (1968), with J.D.H. Pilkington, A. Hewish, and T.W. Cole.

Editor, Next Generation Infrared Space Observatory. Kluwer, 1992, with J.K. Davies and R.S. Stobie.

"Simultaneous millimetre and radio observations of Cygnus X-3 in quiescent radio state," Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society 274: 633 (1995), with R.P. Fender, S.T. Garrington, R.E. Spencer, and G.G. Pooley.

"Flaring and quiescent infrared behaviour of Cygnus X-3," Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society 283: 798 (1996), with R.P. Fender, P.M. Williams, and A.S. Webster.

"Comments on the superluminal motion in Cygnus X-3," Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society 285: 187 (1997), with R.N. Ogley and S.J. Newell.


Michelson Medal, Franklin Institute, Philadelphia 1973
J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize, Center for Theoretical Studies, Miami 1978
Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize, American Astronomical Society 1987
Herschel Medal, Royal Astronomical Society, London 1989
Fellow, Institute of Physics
Jansky Award, National Radio Astronomy Observatory 1995
Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to astronomy 1999

Honorary D.Univ., York University 1994
Honorary D.Sc. from: Heriot-Watt University 1993,University of Warwick 1995, University of Newcastle 1995, and Cambridge University 1996.


1968-70 Research Council Fellow, University of Southampton, England
1970-73 Teaching Fellow, Physics, University of Southampton, England
1973-76 Editor, The Observatory
1973-87 Tutor, Consultant, Examiner, and Lecturer, Open University, England
1974-76 Graduate Programmer, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College, London
1976-82 Associate Research Fellow, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College, London
1982-86 Senior Research Fellow, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, Scotland
1986-89 Senior Science Officer, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, Scotland 1989-91 Grade 7 Officer, Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, Scotland

While at Edinburgh's Royal Observatory, she was head of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope section, responsible for the British end of the telescope project based in Hawaii.

1991- present Professor of Physics and Department Chair, Open University, England


B.Sc. University of Glasgow 1965
Ph.D. (radio astronomy) Cambridge University 1969

Sources and References consulted

Professor Bell Burnell and [amw1994], [1DD N20], [26 SBM], [jbb1996rl], [wwdp1995mw]

Additional Information/Comments

Although Burnell shared the prestigious Michelson Award with her former graduate advisor Hewish in 1973, the Nobel Committee the following year did not acknowledge her role in the discovery of pulsars when it awarded Sir Martin Ryle and Anthony Hewish the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics "for their pioneering research in radio astrophysics. Ryle for his observations and inventions... and Hewish for his deci ive role in the discovery of pulsars".

Many distinguished astronomers including Sir Frederick Hoyle, Thomas Gold, and Jeremiah Ostriker have expressed the view that Burnell should have been awarded the Nobel Prize with Hewish and Ryle. [26 SBM]

    "Because [physics and astronomy] are predominately male, inevitably, the standards, the norms are the male. The system doesn't always stop to think, `Has this person had a career break, perchance, or are there other constraints?' ...Do we use a quanti ty of achievement as a measure of ability?" ---Jocelyn Bell Burnell, 1995. [wwdp1995mw]

Married Martin Burnell in 1968. they have one child.

Burnell reports that her career was shaped in a large part by her husband's frequent relocations and the birth of a son.

    "A lot of my working life has been driven by family circumstances. I worked part-time for 18 years and was married to a peripatetic husband who moved around an awful lot, so I sought whatever job I could get in astronomy or physics wherever he was... Although we are now much more conscious about equal opportunities I think there are still a number of inbuilt structural disadvantages for women. I am very conscious that having worked part-time, having had a rather disrupted career, my research record i a good deal patchier than any man's of a comparable age... The life experience of a woman is rather different from that of the male ..." --- Jocelyn Bell Burnell, 1996. [jbb1996rl]

When Burnell was appointed Professor of Physics at the Open University in Milton Keynes, the number of female professors of physics in the United Kingdom doubled.

She describes herself as "a role model, a spokeswoman, a representative, and a promoter of women in science in the U.K.".

Some Professional Activities:

Member, Royal Astronomical Society (Council member 1978-81, 1992-95; Vice President 1995-97)
Member, American Astronomical Society
Member of many research council peer-review committees (1978-present)
Foreign Member, Onsala Telescope Board, Sweden (1996-present)
Chair, European Commission, DG XII, Physics Panel (1996-present)

Field Editor: Professor Jean Turner


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latest revision {4/30/97 mjw} 3/16/01 nb