Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jocelyn Bell Burnell wins award

Jocelyn Bell Burnell at the LOFAR-UK station in Chilbolton in September 2010. Credit: James West, SEPnet.
I just posted over a the LOFAR-UK blog a story from NRAO about Jocelyn Bell Burnell winning the 2011 Grote Reber Award for lifetime contributions to radio astronomy.

Jocelyn Bell with the antennas she built and used to discover pulsars in the 1960s. Not sure of the credit for this image. 

 When I first learned the story of Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovering pulsars, as a young woman interested in astronomy she immediately became a scientific role model for me. Finally someone who looked a bit like me was in the history of astronomy. That was a really powerful moment.

 Now that I've met her on several occasions I'm happy to say I still think of her as a role model for professional science. Especially on how to act with humility and treat people with respect - and also on how to be excited about science of course. (That particularly came through I thought when I interviewed her about LOFAR in September - YouTube clip, embedded below.)

 I'm delighted every time I hear she's won another award. And I was really delighted when I learned she would be opening the LOFAR-UK station in Chilbolton. I loved the comparison we could make between the LBAs and the antennas she built in the 1960s. In some ways it looks like not much has changed in radio astronomy! Of course in other ways things are significantly different. Jocelyn Bell Burnell had to meticulously search for the signal in reams of traces made with a pen on paper. LOFAR used a massive supercomputer to combine the signal, and is only possible thanks the enormous advances in high speed internet connections and computing which have happened in the last 10 years or so.

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