Challenges & Changes in Physics

Prof. Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Department of Physics, University of Oxford


Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS FRSE FRAS FInstP (born 15 July 1943) is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967.

A pulsar is a highly magnetized rotating compact star (usually neutron stars but also white dwarfs) that emits beams of electromagnetic radiation out of its magnetic poles. This radiation can be observed only when a beam of emission is pointing toward Earth (similar to the way a lighthouse can be seen only when the light is pointed in the direction of an observer), and is responsible for the pulsed appearance of emission. Neutron stars are very dense and have short, regular rotational periods. This produces a very precise interval between pulses that ranges from milliseconds to seconds for an individual pulsar. Pulsars are one of the candidates for the source of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays.

The periods of pulsars make them very useful tools for astronomers. Observations of a pulsar in a binary neutron star system were used to indirectly confirm the existence of gravitational radiation. The first extrasolar planets were discovered around a pulsar, PSR B1257+12. In 1983, certain types of pulsars were detected that at that time exceeded the accuracy of atomic clocks in keeping time.

Prof. Bell Burnell discussed her research and the challenges that physics & physicists face, and shares some of her work to push for change.

About this Event

In the third lecture of this new series from the Department of Physics, we heard from Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell [she/her], an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who discovered the first pulsar while a graduate student at Cambridge. In 2018, Jocelyn was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She gave all of the £2.3 million prize money to found a scholarship supporting female, minority and refugee students to become physics researchers.

This was the third of a series of lectures this term hosted by Dr Alex Ramadan. It was held as a webinar on Zoom.

About the series

Who we are and the experiences we go through shape the way we see the world around us. As physicists, our experiences shape how we do our research and the problems we choose to tackle. It is important we have physicists with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds working on the answers to fundamental questions about the universe around us. Through this we will ensure we are tackling issues which go beyond one specific group of people or experiences and that we are ensuring an accurate view of the world around us. Without this we will not be able to achieve the ultimate goal of research in physics: understanding how the universe behaves.

The problem of a lack of diversity within the sciences and the scientific workforce is universal across the disciplines. In this lecture series we discussed some of the challenges we face in Physics to making our community more diverse, equitable and inclusive. We heard from speakers from a wide range of backgrounds about what they think some of the challenges are, the work they have done and are doing to make real changes and how we can all do our part to build a better physics community.

This was a lecture series hosted by the Department of Physics but was open to all: we welcomed everyone to come and learn in a welcoming and inclusive environment, whether you are part of the department or not. Whilst the speakers discussed their research in physics you did not need a high level of physics understanding to attend.


Online Events Online Seminars Online Science & Tech Seminars #equality #physics #equality_and_diversity #equality_inclusion #physics_education

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