Funds for bringing greater diversity to physics 

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell received £2.3m in prize money for her contribution to science. She has since established The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund. It is a program aimed at elevating women in the world of physics. 

Eliza Archer
Eliza Archer NewsMavens, Europe
Funds for bringing greater diversity to physics  - NewsMavens
Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

In late 2018, leading astrophysicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who was controversially overlooked for the Nobel prize in 1974 following her work on pulsars, won the most lucrative award in modern science for her contributions.

After receiving £2.3m in prize money, she established The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund; a program aimed at elevating women in the world of physics. 

The fund aims to increase levels of women researching physics in the UK to 30% in the next ten years -– an increase of 8%. Women of low socio-economic backgrounds and women of refugee status who are entering graduate study will be eligible to apply for the fund.

Professor Bell Burnell has previously reflected on her own time in university, “In my case, I probably didn't need the money, but I needed assurance that people like me could do PhDs. When I turned up at the University of Cambridge (in 1965) it was the "tradition" that when a woman entered the lecture theatre, everybody whistled and stamped and catcalled.”

When asked about the establishment of the fund, she commented "I never thought I'd have this kind of money, so it would be nice to enable those who want to -- refugees and people from minorities and other under-represented groups -- to stay on and do PhDs."

Details from the story:

  • The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund has been established in conjunction with the Institute of Physics.
  • Professor Bell Burnell hoped the fund will create greater diversity in physics departments.
  • Professor Bell Burnell is not new to the world of philanthropy, she is also a founder of the Athena SWAN scheme which helps to advance the careers of women in STEM.
  • The recipients of the award will be given funds to assist with the financial burden of fees, living costs and transport associated with their graduate study.
  • According to statistics from the Institute of Physics, 44% of schools in the UK do not have any girls in A-level physics and women make up just 1.7% of first years studying physics.
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