Special Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics Awarded to Prof Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell

7 September 2018


Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS, a member of the Astrophysics group in the Department of Physics at Oxford, was chosen by a panel of leading scientists to receive the $3m (£2.3m) Special Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics for her landmark work on pulsars and a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community.

The prize was officially announced on September 6, 2018 in San Francisco. The citation reads:

The Selection Committee of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics announces a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizing the British astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell for her discovery of pulsars – a detection first announced in February 1968 – and her inspiring scientific leadership over the last five decades

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Pulsars are a highly magnetized, rapidly spinning form of the super-dense stars known as neutron stars. The discovery was one of the biggest surprises in the history of astronomy, transforming neutron stars from science fiction to reality in a most dramatic way. Among many later consequences, it led to several powerful tests of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and to a new understanding of the origin of the heavy elements in the universe. Yuri Milner, one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prizes, said, “Professor Bell Burnell thoroughly deserves this recognition. Her curiosity, diligent observations and rigorous analysis revealed some of the most interesting and mysterious objects in the Universe.”

Previous Recipients of the Special Prize Include Stephen Hawking, Seven CERN Scientists Whose Leadership Led to the Discovery of the Higgs Boson, and to the Entire LIGO Collaboration that Detected Gravitational Waves.

In a remarkable gesture that shows her generosity, Jocelyn will donate the prize money to the Institute of Physics to fund PhD studentships for people underrepresented in physics.

“A lot of the pulsar story happened because I was a minority person and a PhD student,” she said. “Increasing the diversity in physics could lead to all sorts of good things.”

The new Head of Department, Prof Ian Shipsey, shared the great news with the department. Details of a celebration in honour of our dear colleague and friend will be announced soon.

Congratulations Jocelyn!

For more coverage on this, or to learn about the incredible career of Prof Bell-Burnell, visit:

The Institute of Physics
The Royal Society
University of Oxford MPLS
The Guardian article