Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell becomes second woman to be awarded Copley Medal

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The Queen with Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell during a previous visit to the Royal Society of Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)
The Queen with Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell during a previous visit to the Royal Society of Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has been awarded the world’s oldest scientific prize for her work on the discovery of pulsars.

The scientist and astrophysicist becomes only the second woman after Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin to be awarded the Copley Medal.

Other recipients of the Royal Society’s highest prize include Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein.

With many more women having successful careers in science... I hope there will be many more female Copley winners in the near future

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dame Jocelyn said: “I am delighted to be the recipient of this year’s Copley Medal, a prize which has been awarded to so many incredible scientists.

“With many more women having successful careers in science, and gaining recognition for their transformational work, I hope there will be many more female Copley winners in the near future.

“My career has not fitted a conventional – male – pattern.

“Being the first person to identify pulsars would be the highlight of any career; but I have also swung sledgehammers and built radio telescopes; set up a successful group of my own studying binary stars; and was the first female president of the Institute of Physics and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

“I hope that my work and presence as a senior woman in science continues to encourage more women to pursue scientific careers.”

The award includes a £25,000 gift which Dame Jocelyn will add to the Institute of Physics’ Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund, providing grants to graduate students from under-represented groups in physics.

She is one of 26 medal and award winners announced on Tuesday by the society, recognising research and outstanding contributions in the fields of advancing quantum computing, revolutionising prenatal testing, and challenging racist pseudoscience.

Dr Nowsheen Goonoo, based at the University of Mauritius, has been awarded the inaugural rising star Africa prize in memory of Paul O’Brien for her work developing new biomaterials.

Royal Society president Sir Adrian Smith said: “Through its medals and awards the Royal Society recognises those researchers and science communicators who have played a critical part in expanding our understanding of the world around us.

“From advancing vaccine development to catching the first glimpses of distant pulsars, these discoveries shape our societies, answer fundamental questions and open new avenues for exploration.

“On behalf of the Royal Society I congratulate each of our award winners and thank them for their work.”

A full list of medals and awards including past winners can be found on the Royal Society website: https://royalsociety.org/grants-schemes-awards/awards/.

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