Posted on September 7, 2018 by staff

Astrophysicist donates £2.3m prize to STEM diversity


British astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has donated a £2.3 million prize to increasing diversity in STEM.

Dame Bell Burnell won the Breakthrough Prize for her life’s work in science and especially for her role in the discovery of pulsars.

Despite playing a lead role in that discovery, she was a PhD student at the time and so was overlooked for the 1974 Nobel Prize awarded to her senior male colleagues.

She has donated the money to the Institute of Physics to establish research studentships for women and ethnic minority groups.

“I think diversity is very important and I hope this might increase the diversity a bit,” she said. “One of the under-represented groups in physics is women, so that is one that interests me.

“But groups with various ethnicities could well be included, it would be wonderful if we could find a refugee or two.”

Pulsars are rotating neutron stars which emit pulses of electromagnetic radiation.

Dame Bell Burnell, originally from Northern Ireland, continued: “They don’t often give the Nobel Prize to students… it’s perceived as a senior man’s prize.

“In the late 60s, early 70s, when all this was happening, science was very male-dominated and, in Britain, white male-dominated.

“I came in as a female and came into Cambridge from the north and west of the UK – I had never been that far south before.

“I was really scared, I thought they had made a mistake admitting me, reckoned they were going to throw me out in due course but decided to work my very hardest so that when they threw me out I wouldn’t have a guilty conscience and I was being incredibly thorough.”