Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell in new TV series tomorrow

See this programme on BBC iPlayer - available through the month of April

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell will feature in a new BBC4 series that looks at modern men and women who will be remembered for the brilliance of their minds. In tomorrow's programme she describes the moments of despair and jubilation she felt when, as a PhD student, she discovered pulsars: rapidly spinning, super-dense, collapsed stars that send radio signals to space.

Born in Belfast in 1943,  Jocelyn lived in Lurgan as a child and attended Lurgan College. Her father was the architect of the Armagh Planetarium.  When Burnell was appointed Professor of Physics at the Open University in Milton Keynes, the number of female professors of physics in the United Kingdom doubled.

Currently, Jocelyn is one of the most prominent scientific figures in the UK. She is furthermore the first woman to become the President of the Institute of Physics (IOP) and last year she was voted as the top living woman scientist in an online poll run by the New Scientist Magazine

Jocelyn is a role model, a spokeswoman and an enthusiastic promoter of women in science.

From a personal view, I have met Jocelyn several times and I was totally fascinated by her presence. 

The first time I met her, back in 2004, she was invited by the Armagh Observatory to receive the prestigious Robinson Medal. I was treated to a personal recollection of her memories as a discoverer of pulsars, in the back of  Armagh Observatory's director Professor Mark Bailey's car, that was taking her to St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon to deliver a schools lecture. 

JocelynBellBurnell2004.JPG

The last time I met her, a year ago, she was invited by the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA) in Belfast to give a lecture about Astronomy and Poetry.  These talks certainly justified her reputation as one of the finest speakers around!

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell receiving the Robinson Medal in 2004 in Armagh


I am delighted to see that one of the winners of the Astronomy competition run by the IAA during the International Year of Astronomy, Orlaith O'Halloran, a girl from Mount St Catherine's school in Armagh, remembered the story I told her about Jocelyn (she wrote the essay in December 2009 having heard the story three months before, in September).

 See Orlaith's winning essay here. Listen to the stars singing here.

"Most people in the world do not know about this story. But if you tell them it will be a new thing that they will learn. Stars really sing." Orlaith, eight and a half years old.

Beautiful Minds – Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Tomorrow, 7 April,  21:00 on BBC Four

Miruna Popescu

Armagh Observatory - Astronomy Education