Science

U.K. physicist donates $3 mn prize to boost diversity

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell  

Bell Burnell was overlooked by the Nobels for her role in finding radio pulsars

One of Britain’s leading astrophysicists is donating her $3 million purse from a major science prize to encourage diversity in physics.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell says the money will go to the Institute of Physics to fund graduate scholarships for people from under-represented groups: women, members of ethnic minorities and refugees.

‘From left field’

She told the BBC that people from minority groups bring “a fresh angle on things and that is often a very productive thing. A lot of breakthroughs, she added, “come from left field”.

Ms. Bell Burnell won the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics on Thursday for her role in discovering radio pulsars. The discovery of the rotating neutron stars won a Nobel Prize for physics in 1974, but two of Ms. Bell Burnell’s male colleagues were named the winners.

The selection committee of the prize recognised Ms. Bell Burnell for her discovery of the pulsars — first announced in February 1968 — and her ‘inspiring’ scientific leadership over the last five decades.

Pulsars are a highly magnetised, rapidly spinning form of the super-dense stars known as neutron stars. Their discovery was one of the biggest surprises in the history of astronomy, transforming neutron stars from science fiction to reality in a most dramatic way. Among many later consequences, it led to several powerful tests of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and to a new understanding of the origin of the heavy elements in the universe.

Yuri Milner, one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prizes, said, “Professor Bell Burnell thoroughly deserves this recognition. Her curiosity, diligent observations and rigorous analysis revealed some of the most interesting and mysterious objects in the Universe.”

Ms. Bell Burnell was a graduate student in the mid-1960s, working with Anthony Hewish at the University of Cambridge. While taking data with a new radio telescope that she had helped build, she found an unexpected signal: regular pulses of radio waves. With perceptiveness and persistence she characterised the signal and showed it originated from space. She had discovered pulsars. Hewish shared with Sir Martin Ryle the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars”.

(With PTI inputs)

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 3:46:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/uk-physicist-donates-3-mn-prize-to-boost-diversity/article24889332.ece

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