Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars as a PhD student.Credit: David Hartley/Shutterstock

Topics: Astrophysics, Diversity, Diversity in Science, Nobel Prize, Pulsar, Women in Science

Fifty years after discovering pulsars — compact rotating stars that emit beams of radiation — astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell has been awarded one of the most lucrative prizes in science: a US$3-million Breakthrough prize. Thought by many to have been snubbed for a Nobel prize for the discovery1, Bell Burnell, 75, has been recognized by the Breakthrough committee with a special award in fundamental physics for both her scientific achievements and her “inspiring leadership” over the past five decades.

“I cannot think of a more deserving scientist to win this prize,” says Chiara Mingarelli, an astrophysicist at the Flatiron Institute in New York City. “In addition to being both a pioneer and a giant in the field, Bell Burnell is the highest calibre role model — a champion for women in science, who speaks out against the many inequities faced by women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields.”

The Breakthrough prizes were launched in 2012 and are funded by entrepreneurs including Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg. Awarded in fundamental physics, life sciences and mathematics and each worth $3 million, they are usually handed out in December, based on selections made after an open nomination process. But the selection committee can decide to make special awards, bypassing the standard nomination procedure, to those they deem particularly deserving. Previous special awards have been given to Stephen Hawking, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) collaboration for the discovery of gravitational waves, and seven CERN scientists who co-ordinated the hunt for the Higgs boson.

Pulsar discoverer Jocelyn Bell Burnell wins $3-million Breakthrough Prize

Zeeya Merali, Nature

Related link:

Scientist Robbed of Nobel in 1974 Finally Wins $3 Million Physics Prize — And Gives It Away

Rafi Letzter, Live Science

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