Science Focus (issue 022)

Trans cend i ng t he Pr i zes : 超越一切殊榮: By Sonia Choy 蔡蒨珩 Jocelyn Bell was raised in a Quaker family (footnote 1). As a girl and later a young woman in the 1950s trying to learn science, life was not easy – at her primary school, only boys were allowed to take technical subjects, and girls were banished to cookery and cross-stitching [1]. She was only al lowed to take science classes after her parents campaigned hard for her to do so. At boarding school she was inspired by her physics teacher, Mr. Tillott, who encouraged her to progress further in physics [1]. Although later on going to the University of Cambridge as a graduate student, she suf fered f rom imposter syndrome (footnote 2) and was convinced that she would be thrown out at any time, which pushed her to work even harder [2]. In 1967, while still a graduate student, she was part of the team that assembled the Interplanetary Scinti l lation Ar ray at Mul lard Radio Astronomy Observatory and later discovered the first four pulsars while processing the data from the telescope [2]. Since the radio telescope would also pick up human interference, like radio stations and thermostats, her job was to filter out the human interference and keep the remaining data. She first noted the strange pulsating signals in a par ticular par t of the sky; after her advisor asked her to check with another telescope, they confirmed that there was indeed a signal coming from the first ever discovered pulsar, now known as PSR B1919+21. She had famously labeled the strange signal LGM – short for Little Green Men [2]. Despite this remarkable discovery, Bell Burnell was not awarded the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics; the prize instead went to Antony Hewish, her PhD supervisor, and Martin Ryle, the Head of the Cambridge Radio Astronomy Group, for devising the method of linking several telescopes located physically apart to enlarge their total combined aperture, a revolutionary method i n radio as t ronomy. Some astronomers, including Fred Hoyle, one of the formulators of stel lar nucleosynthesis (the creation of new chemical elements i n s t a r s ) , criticized When one thinks of an as t ronomer, they may be inclined to p i ct u re an o l d man s i t t i ng a l one in an obser vator y, l ook i ng up at the s ta r s . B u t one o f the strangest, most captivating objects in the sky was first discovered by a young woman in 1967 – although the Nobel Pr ize for the discovery wa s g i ve n t o her super v i so r instead. B o r n i n Northern Ireland i n 1 9 4 3 ,