Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who should have won a Nobel Prize in 1974 for her discovery of pulsars, was finally recognized with a $3 million award.
Bell Burnell, who was one of the most prominent examples of female scientists who were not acknowledged for their contributions, decided to donate the money to a good cause.
Bell Burnell Should Have Won 1974 Nobel Prize
Bell Burnell was a Cambridge graduate student in 1967, working with her supervisor Antony Hewish on a dissertation on strange objects found in distant galaxies that were known as quasars.
A radio telescope that they built recorded data on quasar observations, pushing out 96 feet of chart paper daily featuring a line in red ink. Bell Burnell remembered seeing "an unclassifiable squiggle," which Hewish initially dismissed as manmade radio interference. However, the source of the squiggles turned out be what are now known as pulsars, which are rapidly spinning neutron stars emitting radiation.
The discovery of pulsars, which is considered to be one of the most important astronomical discoveries in the 20th century, earned a Nobel Prize in 1974. Unfortunately, it only went to Hewish, and not to Bell Burnell who was the first to observe and analyze them.
Bell Burnell Receives Breakthrough Prize And $3 Million
Now, more than 50 years after her significant role in the discovery of pulsars, Bell Burnell was recognized with a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, along with an award of $3 million. In comparison, the 1974 Nobel Prize distributed $124,000 to two winners, which is about $620,000 when adjusted for inflation.
Originally founded in 2012, the Breakthrough Prize is intended to be viewed as the "Oscars of Science." It is funded by prominent names in Silicon Valley, including Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin, and Yuri Milner, offering the largest monetary science prizes in the whole world. Previous winners include the late Stephen Hawking, the scientists behind the discovery of the Higgs boson, and the team that detected gravitational waves.
"Jocelyn Bell Burnell's discovery of pulsars will always stand as one of the great surprises in the history of astronomy," said committee chair Edward Witten.
Bell Burnell, however, is not pocketing the $3 million award. Instead she will donate the money to create a fund that will help women, ethnic minority, and refugee students to become researchers of physics.
"I don't want or need the money myself and it seemed to me that this was perhaps the best use I could put to it," Bell Burnell told BBC News.