The Virginia Tech College of Science’s J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series returns Feb. 8 as a virtual event with guest speaker Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a visiting academic at Oxford University’s Department of Physics and the Chancellor of the University of Dundee, Scotland.

This is the second time that the lecture series is going virtual because of the ongoing COVID pandemic. In all, there have been 13 lectures, counting this new talk, since the series began in February 2017.

The noon Feb. 8 talk will be titled “Discovery of Pulsars: A Graduate Student’s Story.” Bell Burnell says she will describe how pulsars were accidentally discovered and relate some instances where they were ‘nearly’ discovered.” Registration is required.

According to her bio provided by Oxford University, Bell Burnell inadvertently discovered pulsars as a graduate student in radio astronomy at Cambridge University, opening up a new branch of astrophysics — work recognized by the award of a Nobel Prize to her supervisor.

She subsequently worked in many roles in several branches of astronomy, working part-time while raising a family. She has been president of the United Kingdom’s Royal Astronomical Society. She became the first female president of the Institute of Physics for the U.K. and Ireland in 2008, and the first female president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2014. She was one of the small group of women scientists that set up the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women's Academic Network) Charter. She has received many honors, including a $3 million Breakthrough Prize in 2018.

In her spare time, Bell Burnell gardens, listens to choral music, and is active in the Quakers. She has co-edited an anthology of poetry with an astronomical theme, “Dark Matter; Poems of Space.”

The J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series at the College of Science at Virginia Tech is a forum for the exchange of new and innovative ideas in scientific fields. Discussions have delved into brain sciences, speech and hearing development, black holes, optical pulses, and more. Of the 13 speakers, three are Nobel Laureates.

Generously supported by Mark and Debi Sowers, this series provides opportunities for the university community and general public to interact with and learn from eminent scholars and industry experts.

Sowers is a Richmond, Virginia-based businessman and developer and longtime supporter of the College of Science. He sponsors the series to share with others his fascination with the sciences, in particular, the physical sciences.

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