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Jocelyn Bell Burnell
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Astronomer
    (July 15, 1943- )
    Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
    Birth name was Susan Jocelyn Bell
    While a graduate student, discovered the first pulsar (July, 1967)
    President of the Royal Astronomical Society (2002-04)
    Named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (2007)
    She failed her 11+ exams and was sent to boarding school for a second chance.
    She and her fellow researchers initially dubbed the first pulsar LGM-1, with LGM standing for 'little green men,' based on the possibility that the regular pulses were a signal from extraterrestrials. (They ultimately determined that the pulses were the result of a rapidly rotating neutron star.)
    Her thesis supervisor, Anthony Hewish, received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of pulsars (1974), while she was overlooked.
    She had had a child shortly before the Nobel Prizes were awarded and noted, 'I think at one level it said to me 'Well men win prizes and young women look after babies.''
    Fellow astronomer Fred Hoyle criticized the Nobel Prize committee's decision so harshly, many observers suspected it played a major role in his being denied a Nobel Prize in 1983.
    She was the only woman studying physics at the University of Glasgow and recalled, 'There was a tradition among the students that when a female walked into a lecture theater all the guys stamped and whistled and banged the desk. And I faced that for every class I walked into for my last two years.'
    She had to analyze up to 100 feet of data printouts each night.
    At the general assembly of the International Astronomical Union, she was told, 'Miss Bell, you have made the greatest astronomical discovery of the twentieth century.' (1970)
    She said about public interest in science, 'Unfortunately, there have been times when scientists have said. 'It's far too complicated, you won't understand', which is a bit like saying, 'I'm brilliant, aren't I?''
    She was generally gracious about being ignored by the Nobel Prize committee.
    She said, 'I am not myself upset about it. After all, I am in good company, am I not!'

Credit: C. Fishel


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