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Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Internal News - 18 June 2007

Former Dean honoured in Queen's Birthday List

Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell CBE, former Dean of Science, became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her services to science in the Queen's Birthday Honours announced on Saturday.

The Guardian newspaper said: “The Damehood awarded to Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell…goes some way to righting one of the most notorious wrongs in science.”

Dame Jocelyn, a Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford, was born in Belfast and gained a degree in Physics from Glasgow University and then a PhD at Cambridge University in Radio Astronomy.

It was while she was working as a graduate student at Cambridge that she was involved in the discovery of pulsars, rapidly rotating neutron stars which give off signals detectable on Earth. Professor Bell Burnell discovered the pulsars when she noticed some unusual marking on chart paper from a radio telescope she was operating. The discovery opened up a new branch of astrophysics and led to a Nobel Prize for her supervisor.

She later worked at the University of Southampton, University College London and at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, as well as raising a family. She has served on the Council of the Open University as President of the Royal Astronomical Society. Between 2001 and 2004 she was Dean of Science at the University and has continued her links with the University in a roving ambassadorial role.

During her distinguished career her awards have included: the Oppenheimer prize, the Michelson medal, the Tinsley prize and the Magellanic Premium, and the UK's Royal Astronomical Society has presented her with the Herschel Medal. UK and US universities have conferred honorary doctorates on her, and she holds an Honorary Fellowship in New Hall, her former Cambridge College. She was made a CBE in 1999 and that year also won the Edinburgh Medal for services to science and society. She became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003.

The public appreciation and understanding of science have always been important to her, and she is much in demand as a speaker and broadcaster.