The astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell states that the presence of women in academic departments, makes them more resilient, more robust and more successful.

  • Francesc Josep Bayarri Moreno
  • November 10th, 2017

The pulsars discoverer, Jocelyn Bell, has affirm, when receiving the “honorary doctorate” of the Universitat de València on Friday, that “the presence of women in academic departments makes them more resilient, more robust and more successful, especially at times of rapid or unexpected change.” The inauguration ceremony has taken place in the auditorium of the historic building of La Nau. The “laudatio” will be read by Pascuala García Martínez, professor of the Faculty of Physics of the University of Valencia.

“Since there are not so many women in physics and astronomy in my country, I am pleased that today you are awarding this degree to a female astrophysicist. It has been a long struggle in my country to get women fully accepted as scientists, but things are beginning to change. Of course it means a big change for the men as well.” This is how the discoverer of the first sign of a pulsar in 1967 has expressed herself.

Bell has remembered that she was visiting the Universitat de València in February 2016 when there was an announcement of the discovery of gravitational radiation, predicted by Einstein 100 years previously. “So thank you to those who had invited me to Valencia and to the physics department for allowing me to be part of that memorable occasion.”

Currently, Jocelyn Bell is President of the Royal society of Edinburgh – Scotland’s National Academy. She has not avoided, in her speech, the most current topics: “Scotland has always had strong European links, independent of England, and would wish to stay in Europe.  But sadly the UK is leaving the European community. There is once again a strong voice for Scottish independence. How this will end up, I do not know. I understand the Spanish reluctance to admit breakaway countries, and that will undoubtedly influence any Scottish decision. But I do wish to emphasise the long and strong European Links that Scotland has, and how the Universitat de València is today building on those links.

The full speech can be checked out by clicking here

For her part, Pascuala García Martínez has said: “Jocelyn Bell is aware that she is a model for many women and girls. From the solitude of being the first and only woman in many awards and leadership positions, has fled from the queen bee syndrome, those who understand the rise of women to places of power as a war that all have to win for themselves, without help.” And she has added: “she has fought for equality, for women rights, for human rights all her life: 'Societies will be healthier if they are more diverse’, she argues, “diversity lies in the way women do science.”

In her speech, Pascuala García has condemned the discrimination of women scientists, which she has exemplified in the person of Jocelyn Bell, who discovered the pulsars, but the Swedish academy awarded the Nobel Prize to a man: Antony Hewish, Bell’s hierarchical superior: "The Nobel prizes represent public recognition of excellence and visibility in a certain scientific field and it is well known that the work of women scientists is not recognised. The average age of people awarded with Nobel Prize during the last decade is 64 years. In the 1970s and 1980s this figure was 53 years. Jocelyn Bell was 31 years old when Antony Hewish was awarded with the Nobel Prize for the discovery of her stars.” Pascuala García has concluded: “Even so, the no-Nobel in Jocelyn's life will mean a point of no return and her life will be linked to starring one of the flagrant cases of discrimination against women in science."

The laudatio can be read by clicking

In his speech, the principal of the Universitat de València, Esteban Morcillo, has evoked the tradition of the Universitat de València "to look at the sky with a scientific objective”, which “is based on the university's own origins, and more recently on the creation, more than a century ago, of the Astronomical Observatory of the University by the professor of cosmography and physics of the globe, Professor Ignacio Tarazona.”

The principal has indicated: “Coinciding with this anniversary and the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Marie Curie’s birth, the Universitat de València confer the honorary degree on professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered, fifty years ago, the first sign of what we know today as a pulsar.”

Esteban Morcillo wanted to thank both the University Institute of Women's Studies and the Equality Unit of the Universitat de València “the great effort that are developing, as well as I want to thank all the people who are involved in a silent but constant work, in the many equality committees of centre and campus that work to break down gender stereotypes, to progress in that necessary effective equality between men and women that is the basis for the progress of society.

The Principal’s full speech can be checked out by clicking here

Jocelyn Bell

Jocelyn Bell Brunell (Belfast, 1943) is pro-chancellor of Trinity College of the University of Dublin, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and visiting professor of the Mansfield College of the University of Oxford.

Graduated in Physics from the University of Glasgow and PhD from the University of Cambridge, the professor Bell has developed her teaching and researching activity in the Universities of Cambridge and Southampton, in the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of the University College London, in the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, in The Open University and she has been visiting professor in the Princenton University, as well as dean of Science in University of Bath.

She discovered the first sign of a pulsar in 1967. This finding led to the Nobel award in 1974 for her thesis director, Antony Hewish and to her department director Sir Martin Ryle. Jocelyn Bell was not honoured along with them, and this lack of recognition caused a great controversy in scientific community. She is a committed woman who has carried out executive functions in many institutions.

Author of more than 105 scientific publications in addition to books and chapters of books, she has received numerous awards such as Michelson Medal of the Franklin Institute, the Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society of London, the Edinburgh Medal and the gold medal of the Superior Council of Scientific Investigations. She also has been granted an honorary doctorate from many universities, Glasgow, Sussex, Warwick, York, Leeds, Harvard, Durham, Manchester, Strathclyde and Rutgers among others.