Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is one of the UK’s most powerful women.

BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour announced its list of the 100 most powerful women in the UK on Tuesday 12 February. The list included a number of other high profile scientists and engineers including Professor Bell Burnell.

Prof S Jocelyn Bell Burnell

We’re delighted to see Jocelyn, joined by a range of extraordinary female scientists and engineers, in this inaugural power list. Jocelyn’s contribution to research and as an inspiring figurehead and role model in the fight to overcome gender disparities in science make her a very deserving choice.

Professor Sir Peter Knight, President of IOP

Prof. Bell Burnell is credited with the discovery of the first radio pulsar (PSR B1919+21), while a postgraduate student under the supervision of Antony Hewish. Interestingly, the regular radio signal detected in 1967 that lead to the discovery of the first pulsar was given the designation LGM-1. That stands for “little green men”. The signal was so regular it was initially thought it could not be natural!

We did not really believe that we had picked up signals from another civilization, but obviously the idea had crossed our minds and we had no proof that it was an entirely natural radio emission. It is an interesting problem – if one thinks one may have detected life elsewhere in the universe how does one announce the results responsibly? Who does one tell first?

S. Jocelyn Bell Burnell. “Little Green Men, White Dwarfs or Pulsars?”. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, vol. 302, pages 685-689, Dec., 1977

It took the powerful mind of Fred Hoyle to realise that these signals came from neutron stars with strong magnetic fields.

Controversially, she was not a co-recipient of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics along side Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle, which was awarded for pulsar research.

Academic activities
Prof. Bell Burnell was president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002-2004 and president of the Institute of Physics from October 2008 until October 2010. She was also interim president following the death of her successor, Marshall Stoneham, in early 2011.

Past-president makes Woman’s Hour power list IOP News

The power list BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour