Jocelyn Bell will tell CosmoCaixa how she discovered pulsars, one of the most important discoveries in physics

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On November 8 at 7:00 p.m. at the CosmoCaixa Science Museum, the “la Caixa” Foundation presents the conference “The discovery of pulsars. The story of a doctoral student”by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, doctor in physics from the University of Cambridge, professor and researcher in major prestigious universities.

This conference is organized by the “la Caixa” Foundation and takes place within the framework of the European Space Agency (ESA) congress, in connection with “The Extreme Universe” and the Athena X-ray Observatory project.

Bell will outline the history of one of physics’ most important discoveries: pulsars or, in other words, neutron stars. Nanda Rea, an astrophysicist at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Institute for Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), will be in charge of moderating the session.

The physics expert will tell of the time when, observing distant objects in other galaxies with a radio telescopeshe perceived a strange signal which repeated itself every 1.3 seconds. After studying this part of the sky for days and nights, analyzing hundreds of graphs and seeing that the signal kept repeating itself, she knew she had discovered the first neutron star.

Pulsars, a fascinating phenomenon

Studies indicate that a pulsar is a small neutron star rotating at high speed. The best known is in the Crab Nebula. A neutron star is the remnant left after the extinction of a massive supergiant star. Pulsars emit a large amount of energy. Their density is so great that in them matter the size of a ballpoint pen has a mass of about 100,000 tons. Neutron stars emit such periodic (or pulsar) radiation at short, regular intervals.

Since their discovery, pulsars have never ceased to surprise us, not only as interesting objects for astrophysics (today we know of the existence of 3,000 of them in our galaxy), but also because of their their interest for the study of nuclear physics and cosmic rays, or for the detection of gravitational waves. This galactic phenomenon could even become our GPS in the not too distant future.

In this session, Bell will reveal the secrets of the most magnetic and dense objects in the universe. A great opportunity to learn more about space, stars and pulsars, and to debate in person with a great scientist.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, PhD in Fisica from the University of Cambridge, professor and researcher in major prestigious universities.  © University of Dundee.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell, PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge, lecturer and researcher in major prestigious universities universidades de prestigio. © University of Dundee.

Cycle dedicated to the greats of science

This session is the fourth in the Great Figures of Science series, which the “la Caixa” Foundation has been organizing since May at the CosmoCaixa Science Museum with illustrious personalities in science who have reached important milestones or who have made exceptional discoveries for Humanity. This initiative has already been visited by Nobel laureates in physics Michel Mayor and Serge Haroche, and popular NASA astronaut Terry Virts.

In each of the sessions, museum visitors can explore the most relevant and fascinating aspects of contemporary science, thanks to today’s best scientists. This way, viewers can learn about the extraordinary contributions and discoveries of the experts themselves, as well as ask them any questions they might have. It is a unique opportunity to access knowledge about the universe and our planet, about matter and life, about evolution or about any other study that helps us answer the big questions of science, guided by its greatest protagonists.


Monday November 8, 2022, at 7 p.m. The discovery of pulsars. The story of a doctoral student, with Jocelyn Bell


Jocelyn Bell Burnell holds a PhD in Physics from the University of Cambridge. She has been a lecturer and researcher at leading universities and prestigious institutions including University of Southampton, University College London, Royal Observatory Edinburgh, Open University, James Clerk Maxwell Telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii, Princeton University, and is Dean of Science at the University of Bath and President of the Royal Astronomical Society. She has won numerous awards and is currently Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University.

About his research

Pulsars were discovered in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell and Anthony Hewish at the Cambridge Radio Astronomy Observatory. Many pulsating stars are known, but only two, the Crab pulsar and the Vela pulsar, emit detectable visible pulses. These two are also known to emit gamma ray pulses, and one, the crab pulsar, also emits X-ray pulses. For this important discovery, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded in 1974; however, Bell was not one of the recipients of the award.


Nanda Rea, astrophysicist. She works as a scientist at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) and at the Institut d’Estudis Espacials de Catalunya (IEEC). She is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) Athena Science Study Team.

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