Jocelyn Bell Burnell to be awarded honorary degree by DCU

4 Nov 2015

Jocelyn Bell Burnell speaking at Inspirefest 2015. Image via Conor McCabe Photography

One of Ireland’s brightest minds, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, is to be awarded an accolade by Dublin City University (DCU) for her outstanding achievements in the field of astrophysics.

At an official ceremony in the university tomorrow, Bell Burnell will be conferred with an honorary degree in “recognition of her life’s work in the field of astronomy and astrophysics, her commitment to science communication and her advocacy for women in the field of science”.

Bell Burnell drew plaudits for her talk at Inspirefest 2015 last June where she discussed her career and the challenges she faced as an astrophysicist in a predominantly male culture that was far from encouraging to women.

And what a career it has been for Bell Burnell, who grew up in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Of course, her best-known discovery, which garnered her worldwide fame, was her confirmation of the existence of pulsating radio stars, known as pulsars, with the help of a radio telescope that she played an integral part in developing.

While studying for her PhD in Cambridge University, Bell Burnell worked with her supervisor Anthony Hewish, who she turned to upon her discovery of what looked like a bizarre ‘scruff’ on a printout obtained from her radio telescope.

This scruff perplexed not only Bell Burnell but her peers also, as the pulsing that occurred every second from a distant star had never been seen before.

Having dubbed it ‘Little Green Man 1’ due to the potential that extra-terrestrial life could be creating it, Bell Burnell spent the next few years working furiously to figure out what its actual origin was, eventually proving that it was due to a rapidly rotating neutron star.

Sadly, despite her obvious achievement and breakthrough in the field of astrophysics, she was not awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, rather it was her supervisor Hewish as well as her peer Martin Ryle who were awarded the prize in 1974.

While this award is for her previous contributions to astrophysics and science, Bell Burnell’s work continues to go on, as she explained at Inspirefest 2015.

She was also recently awarded a Royal Medal from the Royal Society in recognition of her ‘pivotal contribution’ to science with the pulsar discovery.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Get your Super Early Bird tickets now.

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Open Eir (formerly Eircom Wholesale), Fidelity Investments, Accenture and CoderDojo.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic