One of Britain’s leading astrophysicists, Jocelyn Bell Burnell said she will donate her $3 million prize to encourage more people, especially women, to break into the field.
Burnell, now 75, discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967 as a graduate at Cambridge University. The discovery earned a Nobel Prize in 1974, but the honour went to her two male colleagues.
Burnell said she was not eligible for the Nobel at the time because students could not receive awards.
After more than 40 years, Burnell’s contribution has finally been recognized. On Thursday, she received a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for the discovery, and nearly 3 million dollars in award money.
The laureate said she would donate all the money to help scientists from under-represented groups, namely female and ethnic minority physicists.
“I have this hunch that minority folk bring a fresh angle on things and that is often a very productive thing. In general a lot of breakthroughs come from left field,” she told BBC News on Thursday.
The discovery of pulsars is “one of the biggest surprises in the history of astronomy,” the Breakthrough Prize committee said in a statement Thursday.
“Among many later consequences, it led to several powerful tests of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and to a new understanding of the origin of the heavy elements in the universe,” it said.