An article in the Telegraph (from last month) was pointed out to me the other day about someone who could just be one of the most important people in physics today. Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the current head of the Institute of Physics (IoP). Former head of physics at the Open University, and visiting professor of astrophysics at Oxford (having previously helped discover pulsars while studying at Cambridge), she’s, frankly, a shining light in what seems like a rather dark time for British science.
In light of all the nonsense with the STFC attempting to cut funding to physics and astronomy, the lack of students both at undergrad and school level interested in physics and a general unwillingness even to teach it, UK science isn’t exactly looking healthy. What’s more only around 20% of UK undergrads and less than 4% of IoP members are female. In an age which preaches about equality, that simply won’t do. Bell Burnell is apparently making it her personal mission to rid the country of this particular stigma, and has apparently received hundreds of letters from female science students. Sadly, it’s a social thing. Being a scientist isn’t particularly cool, especially for a girl — or so the majority of people seem to believe. Personally, my opinion couldn’t be more opposite! Some of the best scientists I’ve met are women (and interestingly, in astronomy there’s quite an even balance between the two genders). I’d go so far as to say that female scientists are sexy, but I fear I might be branded as a chauvinist…
Unfortunately, I’m a geek — so my opinions on this probably don’t count.
But putting all of that aside, there’s one other big reason why Bell Burnell is so important as a role model for students — she’s a practicing Quaker. After all the anti-religious nonsense that people like Richard Dawkins have been spouting, it’s nice to know that there are still successful scientists who don’t need to be quite so childish. As I’ve said before, I really wish we could all just get along…
“I find the two reasonably compatible. In Quakerism, your understanding of God is revised in light of your own experience, while in research science you revise your model in light of data from your experiments.
People are suspicious of science. They see it as being responsible for problems like the degradation of our climate. There is also a strand in society that says physics is terribly hard. Unfortunately, there have been times when scientists have said, ‘It’s far too complicated, you won’t understand’, which is a bit like saying ‘I’m brilliant, aren’t I?'”
Music to my ears! The world needs more scientists like Jocelyn Bell Burnell!