Bell Burnell to present 'Discovery of Pulsars: A Graduate Student's Story'

Barbara K. Kennedy
January 23, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two lectures, both titled "Discovery of Pulsars: A Graduate Student's Story," will be presented by the newest winner of the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics — Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a visiting professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, England, and professorial fellow in physics at Mansfield College, England. Both lectures are organized by Penn State's Eberly College of Science.

Bell Burnell will present her lecture tailored for scientists and students at 2 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25, as an outreach event in the Eberly College's Science Achievement Graduate Fellows (SAGF) scholarship program, in the Foster Auditorium of the Paterno Library.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, Bell Burnell will present her lecture tailored for the general public at 11 a.m. in the Berg Auditorium, 100 Huck Life Sciences Building. This Saturday lecture is among the six weekly events in the annual Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science. The overall theme of the 2019 Frontiers of Science series is "Cosmic Clues Open New Frontiers in Space Science." No registration is required.

photo of Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, visiting professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, England, and professorial fellow in physics at Mansfield College, England.

IMAGE: Royal Society of Edinburgh

During her Frontiers of Science lecture on Jan. 26, Bell Burnell will describe the accidental discovery, when she was a graduate student, of pulsar stars, which are super-rapidly rotating neutron stars that emit regular pulses of radiation, like a lighthouse emits beams of light. She also will describe some previous occasions when pulsars were almost discovered. This discovery of pulsars has been described as "one of the biggest surprises in the history of astronomy."

The recipient of many prestigious honors and awards, Bell Burnell most recently was honored in November 2018 with the prestigious Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her discovery of pulsating stars that emit intense beams of radio waves (pulsars) and for her inspiring decades of leadership in the scientific community.

When announcing Bell Burnell's award, the Selection Committee of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics stated, "The study of pulsars has led to some of the most stringent tests of the General Theory of Relativity and the first observational evidence for gravitational waves. In one of the most exciting recent astronomical events, the coalescence of two neutron stars was observed in gravitational waves ... and in a wide spectrum of electromagnetic waves ... Such coalescences ... are one of the primary sources of heavy elements, like gold, that are so much a part of our daily lives."

Bell Burnell has donated the financial award associated with the Special Breakthrough Prize to efforts for helping women students, underrepresented ethnic minority students, and refugee students who wish to become physics researchers. These donated funds are being administered by the Institute of Physics in London.

Also among the many honors that Bell Burnell has received are the Royal Society Michael Faraday prize for excellence in communicating science and the United Kingdom titles "Dame of the British Empire" and "Commander of the Order of the British Empire." She is a member of the Royal Society and has served as president of both the Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics in London. She now serves as chancellor of the University of Dundee in Scotland.

Upcoming events

The remaining events in the 2019 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, all of which begin at 11 a.m., are as follows:

—Feb. 2, in Berg Auditorium, 100 Huck Life Sciences Building: "The Quantum Universe in the Planck Era and Beyond" by J. Richard Bond, University Professor at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, Canada.

—Feb. 9, in 104 Keller Building: "Probing the Universe with Gravitational Waves" by Barry C. Barish, Linde Professor of Physics Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology and a 2017 Nobel Laureate.

—Feb. 16, in Berg Auditorium, 100 Huck Life Sciences Building: "The Ghost Particle: A New Tool for Deep-Space Discoveries" by Doug Cowen, professor of physics and of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State.

—Feb. 23, in Berg Auditorium, 100 Huck Life Sciences Building: "The Universe Beyond Einstein: Lessons from Primordial Messengers" by Ivan Agullo, assistant professor of physics at Louisiana State University.

About the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, a program of the Eberly College of Science, is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the central Pennsylvania area and beyond. Financial support for the 2019 lectures is provided by the Eberly College and by its Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos.

For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Communications at 814-863-8453 or sci-comm@psu.edu. More information about the lectures, including archived recordings of previous lectures, is available online.

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Last Updated January 28, 2019