50 Years After A Nobel Prize Snub, An Astronomer Won $3 Million For Her Discovery

And she plans to donate it.

50 Years After A Nobel Prize Snub, An Astronomer Won $3 Million For Her Discovery

A leading female astronomer in the U.K. is donating the $3 million check she won in a prestigious science award to help underrepresented groups enter the field. 

On Thursday, Jocelyn Bell Burnell won the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her work discovering pulsars — huge, rapidly spinning stars that are in rich in neurons. The 75-year-old helped uncover the groundbreaking findings during her days as a graduate student at Cambridge University. Despite playing an instrumental role in the discovery, Bell Burnell was overlooked for the 1974 Nobel Prize while her male colleagues received the award. 

Almost 50 years, Bell Burnell is finally earning the recognition she deserves for her scientific leadership — and she's determined to use her platform to make a difference. The astronomer has decided to donate the entirety of her winnings to the U.K.'s Institute of Physics, which will then fund graduate scholarships for women, minorities, and other members of underrepresented groups to study 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," she told the BBC. 

As a woman surrounded by male colleagues, Bell Burnell said she often felt like an outsider while conducting her studies. But as she explains, that outsider's perspective is what ultimately propelled her to make the monumental discovery. Now, she hopes to help others make their own achievements. 

"I have this hunch that minority folk bring a fresh angle on things and that is often a very productive thing," she said. "In general, a lot of breakthroughs come from left field."

As for that Nobel Prize snub all those years, Bell Burnell says she believes she got the better end of the deal. "I feel I've done very well out of not getting a Nobel prize," she told The Guardian. "If you get a Nobel prize, you have this fantastic week and then nobody gives you anything else. If you don't get a Nobel prize, you get everything that moves. Almost every year there's been some sort of party because I've got another award. That's much more fun."

Bell Burnell is set to receive the Breakthrough Prize in a ceremony on November 4. 

Cover image via Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images.


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