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Jocelyn Bell Burnell named 2023 Recipient of the Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award

Jocelyn Bell Burnell named 2023 Recipient of the Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award

Jocelyn Bell BurnellJocelyn Bell Burnell Recognized as 2023 Recipient of the Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award


College Park, Maryland, United States, August 4, 2022—The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) announced today that Jocelyn Bell Burnell has been selected to receive the 2023 Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award. She is recognized with the award for outstanding contributions to physics and for effectively communicating those contributions to physics educators. The award will be presented at a Ceremonial Session of the AAPT 2023 Winter Meeting.

Bell Burnell is Dame of the British Empire, and a professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University. She graduated from the University of Glasgow with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Philosophy (physics) and obtained a PhD degree from the University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, she attended New Hall, Cambridge, and worked with Hewish and others to construct the Interplanetary Scintillation Array just outside Cambridge to study quasars, which had recently been discovered.

On 28 November 1967, she detected a "bit of scruff" on her chart-recorder papers that tracked across the sky with the stars. She established that the signal was pulsing with great regularity, at a rate of about one pulse every one and a third seconds. Temporarily dubbed "Little Green Man" the source was identified after several years as a rapidly rotating neutron star. The Daily Telegraph science reporter shortened "pulsating radio source" to pulsar. She has become an icon among scientists, not only for her indisputable discovery of pulsars as a young graduate student, but also because of her lifetime of consistent dedication to lifting up and supporting all those who want to study physics with both her voice and funding.

She has demonstrated leadership and vision in numerous positions in her career and has been the recipient of nearly every major scientific prize, been the subject of documentaries, and was named as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2007. She is a past president of the Institute of Physics in the United Kingdom, (UK). In 2018, she was a recipient of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She dedicated the entire prize (3 million dollars) to establish the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund, administered by the UK Institute of Physics (IOP), designed to help female, minority, and refugee students become physics researchers. Her dedication to students and encouraging the study of physics is world renowned.

She has become one of the leading supporters of the Sigma PI Sigma Physics Congress events, serving as a plenary speaker, and continuing as the honorary chair of the event. Her fame and brilliance is delicately balanced in such a way that she presents to everyone she meets as giving and kind, often described as “down to earth”, despite the fact that her scientific accomplishments have taken us far beyond our planet. At the congress events, she has consistently expressed her wonder at the excitement and energy of the students and the gratitude for the many teachers that spur them toward their enthusiasm for physics. She truly is dedicated to making sure that the future of physics is well equipped to continue making the kind of discoveries that she was able to make as a young scientist.

About the Award
The Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award is given in memory of Floyd K. Richtmyer, distinguished physicist, teacher, and administrator. Professor Richtmyer was one of the founders of AAPT and served as its president. As a teacher, author, research worker, and dean, he was the guide for many young physicists who became leaders of American science and has had a wide influence on the development of physics in the United States. The award has been given since 1941 to a person who has made outstanding contributions to physics and effectively communicated those contributions to physics educators. The previous recipients of the Richtmyer Award include Jay M. Pasachoff, Sir Michael Berry, Brian Greene, Kathryn Moler, Vera Rubin, Alex Filippenko, Arthur H. Compton, Enrico Fermi, Philip Morrison, Steven Chu, Sheldon Glashow, Kip Thorne, and Steven Weinberg. The complete list of winners can be found at http://www.aapt.org/Programs/awards/richtmyer.cfm.

About AAPT
AAPT is the premier international organization for physics educators, physicists, and industrial scientists—with members worldwide. Dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching, AAPT provides awards, publications, and programs that encourage practical application of physics principles, support continuing professional development, and reward excellence in physics education. AAPT was founded in 1930 and is headquartered in the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland.


David Wolfe

Director of Communications