Pulsar woman: It's not a bird, it's not a quasar, it's...


This is an ABC podcast scientist. Have you felt this looking back. I think I was suffering from imposter. Syndrome quite convinced they were going to throw me out. We've all felt at heavyweight but on still bold Iva to he this particular person I've as words and resolve to do my best so that when they threw me out I wouldn't have a guilty conscience. The thing is heard. Bist was seriously impressive. Welcome two sides friction in national sights wake across Australia on the Tesha Mitchell so this episode begins in the late nineteen in sixty s at the radio observatory in Cambridge in nineteen sixty seven the new instrument was perhaps the least glamorous tennis cope ever built. They colluded washing line. Describe where at Cambridge University and it was to be operated fulltime by one person ago the graduate student who helped to build it Jocelyn Bell and Jocelyn Bell now Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell elating astronomer with along and a lustrous Korea is on the cusp of a warping discovery very annoyed L. Prize winning find in fact using a telescope. She's helped to build from scratch one designed to pick up radio frequency signals from an Atta space doesn't look anything like the Csiro Parks Telescope which is a big dish. This looks more like some sort of agricultural frame a a big version of what you'd find in vineyard. Maybe a vineyard that doesn't grow grapevines instead. It's sprouts radio aerials. Yes in fact more than two thousand of them. It was huge fifty. Seven tennis courts would have fitted into that area. You were building this. Yes they were actually using this telescope to look for quasars because they twinkled this thing specially designed to pick out twinkling things mm-hmm that one particular set of twinkling things court Joscelyn's I and she went on to detect pulse is for the first time time one two three four the first four ever identified by humanity. She's going to tell that incredible story. He end end what pulsars these dense energetic hearts of collapsed or did stars have allowed us to understand about the universe but also more like how growing growing up amidst the troubles of Northern Ireland shaped her life and how Jocelyn reconciles quaker faith with her scientific valleys days but I want to start with what first happened when her and her supervises discovery was announced to the world because get ready to GASP ASP when you head worked at the discovered pulses. You got a lot of attention. It was sort of extraordinary position for each day student to being you were in the media. You were being interviewed by journalists. What was it like bit. If a baptism some of fire I imagine there was a lot of interest by journalists. What was the first reaction of Supervisor Dr Tony Hewish. It's absolute nonsense. You don't believe this at all. It must asked me something artificial. Nothing nature could do this so you're just believe it as long as you possibly can and typically the interview would have both my thesis adviser. visor Tony Hewish and myself there and here we can see Dr Tony Hewish who will tell us more fight it and they'd ask Tony Hewish about the astrophysical significance of this discovery with optical telescopes when is limited to arrange observation about here was made. It has kind of got a greater distances. Everybody's first three actions were that it must be manmade and then they turned to me for what they called. The human interest second reactions not really voice very lied. Were were. Perhaps it's little green men another civilization. This was really as a young female sex object. What were my measurements bust waist hips AP's please. How tall was I would. I describe myself as Blonde Brunette or blonde hair. Colors were allowed. Apparently how many boyfriends did I have at wants. It's all this kind of thing not an ounce of science in it was pretty grim and I would have loved to have been really rude to to them particularly the photographers who asked if I could undo some more of my blouse buttons for them. You know you're a Grad student haven't even written your thesis. You'd need references assist from your lab to get another job. You haven't got another job. I couldn't afford to be rude to them. Did you supervise a saying no I just I forgot what my vital statistics were. Just didn't know willfully regard willfully forgot. Yes very discovery of pulsars for which you played need. A decisive role is a most outstanding example of how in recent years our knowledge of the universe has been dramatically extended did so therefore. I don't quite understand of not understood why you haven't become embittered about what happened next. In nineteen seventy seventy four you'll supervisor and a colleague won the Nobel Prize for the discovery that you had been a K- part of you with the second author on that paper and yet you. You seem to have been perpetually philosophical magnanimous about that. Your name was not on that. Nobel prize is and yet you were a K. member are but I was a student on the Nobel Committee didn't look at students. Do you think that's the reason why Yes oh yes. Yes yes novell. Winning work happens in people's Twenties and thirties. That's well known yes but the there's a supervisor around an electoral ritchie the key figure the picture that we used to have way back of her science was done was a senior male often with a fleet of Minions Nyan Speedy Grad students or technical help or what have you and if the thing was successful. The supervisor took the credit. If the thing was unsuccessful the supervisor took the blame on the other. People just didn't feature. He's what Jocelyn Supervisor Antony Hewish said of the win without Jocelyn lighter onto the baby a a I mean my analogy really is a little bit like when you when you when you when you when you plan to ship of discovery and you go off and somebody up the mouse tied says Landho- that's great but I mean who actually aw inspired it and an conceived it and decided what to do when and so on I mean there is a difference between skipper and crew an controversy for many he told the BBC this to to be honest. I didn't think it would matter who'd be my student. I mean it was a serendipitous discovery because such a piece of equipment had been set up. I mean the discovery pulses was unavoidable. Once that survey had begun that was the way the Nobel Committee was thinking at the time to agree with that no I don't talk chilly and when I've had students working with me their their name has gone I on the papers for instance because they're the ones whose careers need launching but that wars the picture of science for quite a while so it wasn't about gender. You don't think it was about high rocky. Yes they didn't know my gender. They didn't really need to know my gender. I was only a student is in many of beg to differ and think that you will deliver grinding justice yeah but I've done done very well artificial because I've got every other price that moves a lot more fun because there's parties most years and possibly a lot. Let's start lists dodgy than a noble prize with all the formality that goes with that not just the formality the aftermath you're expected to a half wise opinions on everything under the Sun because you're a Nobel Prize winner in something says a lot of pitfalls there but let's go back to the actual discovery of pulsars the team wasn't looking for what they found back in nineteen sixty seven and and if it wasn't for Joscelyn's acute is they may well have missed a weeds hit of signals altogether. The University of Cambridge had one computer the whole university it had less memory than a laptop today and unoccupied a big room. You know it was really really primitive and very few people had time on its we certainly didn't so our data kmart on reams of paper chart rows and rows of paper chart with red squiggly lines over it and I read these squiggly lines to get my data yes. This is the thing about astronomy which intrigues me visit. Uh It's so abstract in many ways you feeling in the dock with the help of your dad with the help of numbers with the help of charts what's and you'll try to read meaning into that data extraordinary meaning so you get these charts and what was that moment when you thought yeah well. I was being incredibly thorough and most of the things I so I could understand but there was one this one one little anomaly occupied really a very small fraction one in one hundred thousand but it was on the normally that Kinda stuck in my brain onto finally my brain twigged. I'd seen this anomaly before and then you could go back through the relevant bits of charred. Co Yes it was there on that day. Owen Owen it might have been there on that day but it didn't actually notice it but it was absent for three or four in between and absent for another two or three and then here's the one I've just seen a blip well well. I I called it scruff. It was a little bit of signal. That didn't make sense. It wasn't what I was meant to looking for and it wasn't the kind of interference you know that you working with radio will be aware of so yeah okay so you have this little bit of scruff scruff and then what do you do you know. How do you probe further. You've got this telescope pointed deep into the universe yeah and you don't really we know what you're looking at. One of the first things we did was to get an enlargement of the signal about the wretched thing whatever it was went on strike for a month and then finally one day we got it and I thought it was a string of pulses blip blip blip blip blip blip. Yes because pulses are almost like time. Cape is in the universe aren't they. This make entity of course the first thing is you think the something wrong with the kit so you're busy checking it out and that was the really scary bit for me because I don all the wiring and I thought my God I've got some wires cross literally. They are going to throw me out. We'll come back to that imposter syndrome feeling that it's shocking but understandable yeah that this could have banning therence with the telescope from some earthly object it could have been except upped the stars. Don't keep a twenty four hour clock. The stars Keeper twenty-three are fifty six minute clock. They get almost half an hour earlier earlier every week. I'd been seeing this stuff whatever it was for a few months by then so it looked as if it went run with the stars the question was what artifact could mimic that motion so what is a pulse shooter had she come to know water pulsar actually actually ease in the universe this this sort of dead star if you like. I mean energetic for for date object but a dead star Star. That's exploded and kind of collapsed in on itself. That's right yes. It actually took a work by quite a few astronomers depend on what they were but one of the important things was finding one in the middle of a big glowing massive gas called the Crab Nebula in the Constellation Taurus and we knew that was the remains of a star that had exploded about two thousand years previously and we knew there was something funny looking in the middle so when that turned out it to be a pulsar that kind of made sense so we recommend it was one of these big stars that explodes in the explosion the core of the star gets compressed I and shrinks right down to be about ten kilometers radius tiny in in this game or of a universe absolutely tiny and yet. They're quite massive so so. They are incredibly dense yeah did I he he described once the the density of a neutron star pulsa at least is he's the same I help people imagine it's the seven billion people on the planet shot into the head of thimble. Yes pushed into a sewing thimble. That's right doc nominal but that's only the average density. The center is much more dense. It's just impossible to fathom it is it's unimaginable. Schnabel Yeah and yet you spent your laugh imagining such things. Why did they discovery this discovery that you made with colleagues. How is it become a portal onto the universe since it's useful for testing Einstein's theories as well as having very interesting interesting physics inside itself you we've already alluded to the density and produces some very extreme physics so that's interesting but but these things also have very strong gravity and so we've been using them to check out Einstein's theories of gravity which so far checkout remarkably really well gravitational waves Atlanta's hall size black holes of sort of the sisters of pulsars. If you like black hose alike the big sisters sisters big brothers pulsar isn't massive enough to collapse itself into a black hole but if it gathered onto it a lot of material at probably they would collapse into a black hole so this quite close relationship there but for me one of the really exciting things was they find gravitational national waves from a pair of neutron stars orbiting each other and as they orbits they send out these gravitational waves they get kosher and kosher and they finally merge urge in one quite strong burst of gravitational waves gravitational waves those ripples in the fabric rick of Space Time were I predicted by on Stein and I take it back in Twenty fifteen making big headlines in twenty seventeen. The detection action of gravitational waves after the merging of two neutron stars made the news too when neutron stars been super super fast. I they become pulsars. Jocelyn You mentioned a couple of times imposter syndrome. It's interesting to hear you acknowledge that now now you know you've seen laid a rich and fruitful career if they president of the Royal Astronomical Society President of the Institute of Physics President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh trail-blazing path in all of those arenas as a as an astronomer end as a woman and yet the impostor hostessing drum has felt potent to you from that time why yes certainly when I was a Grad student I started life life in the northern part of the UK Northern Ireland Scotland north of England and suddenly almost by accident but I thought I find myself in Cambridge which is way darned. South frightfully cultured very suave. Everybody's very confident and I feel a a bit like a a Yoko from the outback you know now. I have subsequently realized that the Suave NECE and confidence is entirely an act but they did it on on us myself from the provinces. I wasn't savvy enough to Suss that out initially and I thought oh they're terribly bright. I'm not that bright. They've made a mistake admitting me. They're going to discover their mistake and they're going to throw me out. I I know work in Oxford University and this is something something that in places like Oxford you have to look out for with new student yeah profound anxiety and I think women yeah really take that to heart. Yes I think women I'm in a more open to it than men highly self critical yes and perhaps less good at putting a brave face on it to be honest tomorrow. Aquatic Childhood Northern Ireland Belfast born born while the Second World War was being waged still worn born while Northern Ireland was wrestling with it signed deep divisions with the troubles that shape here the net result was I wanted out and a teenager. I couldn't get out fast and we lived in a small town where everybody knew everybody else. Where you were your parents daughter I find that claustrophobic and it was a community where a lot of people were scared of science. I think because they were afraid it would contradict the Bible Bible. We parents weren't Catholic. They weren't Protestant. They were quakers. They were quaker quakers in Northern Ireland. Deliberately put themselves between the two communities as a bridge bridge. You get shot by both sides saw that's a burden to carry but it needs doing somebody's got to do it not generation quaker yeah weird science and science education feeding to the quake a world view as you were growing up the quaker worldview particularly in England was fairly liberal. Well very liberal and the attitude has been that as a quaker. You're not told what you have to believe. You're told to work it out out for yourself and it's also accepted that it's quite likely that your beliefs will evolve a bit as you mature so you actually say it is interesting parallels between the quantum onset as its cultivated as a community and the scientific mindset yes in both you're actually working relating to other people sometimes working with other people developing your ideas be it religious ideas or scientific understanding with with other people. I know a lot of people have a picture of a scientist as a alone male with a bad hairdo working in a garret but actually there's very very little of that good hairdos and they work in teams exactly yes so you're batting ideas around within the team mm-hmm to try and understand what's going on with what you're looking at or to try and understand why you're kid isn't working for instance so a lot of it is teamwork and in in quaker. ISM you'll find people saying well you know. I don't think I really believe that but you do. Do you think I do do I didn't use to but I think I do know on so that this interchange going on all the time but this nothing rigid in quaker ism that you you have to subscribe to provided you thought it out and got your position. Your position would be respected. I guess if you ended up with a position that was two different on every topic you might feel you were in the wrong place and take yourself off to some other denomination but not what's broadly the way quaker ism works where it is A. God then feeding your conception of the cosmological world well. I don't think anti believe in a creator God am. I don't think I believe in God that controls the world for you you know so. It's no good praying that you pass sure exam when you've done no work for it that kind of thing. I don't believe in an interventionist God but I think I do believe in God. That's kind of supportive sportive to help you through situations not by changing the circumstances but by strengthening you so it's a more intimate relationship relationship between God and yourself. Yes that's right an enabler amore divider yeah excellent. Thank you know Tasha Yup interesting. It was an interesting interesting time when you were growing up not lace because the backdrop of Northern Ireland's troubles within was there but in your taints I think when you were fourteen retain the Russians launched the first artificial satellites Putin again so that's phenomenal sort of situation to have around you and you turn up at high school and wake number one. What do you discover happens on Wednesdays. Oh yes that was very interesting and I think probably is typical of experience for women of my generation in the UK. It's the first week off secondary school and Wednesday morning morning. Message goes round the first year class that this afternoon the boys to such and such a room and the girls to another which I initially thought was sport Nasr by their separating us but in fact they sent the girls to the domestic science room to learn cookery needlework on the sent the boys to the Science Lab Learn Science Ni- choice no choice no discussion. That's just the way the universe was and I my parents had promised me that I'd get to do science in secondary school so I was very disappointed but the domestic science teacher wasn't hearing anything about any change. Thank you very much and I think the head teachers telephone got a bit hot because has not only did my parents call him but so did one of the local doctors who had a door in my class undead there was a third set appearance and so the next time the science class met there. Were three girls think this was a first the teacher made us sit right under his nose in right up against inst- his desk is clearly thought we were dynamite or something yeah dangerous dangerous. Yes going to disrupt the class if he didn't keep rely on us. We did physics. Stop first term without really an awful lot of effort. I came top of the class. Ha of course you had a very different experience when you ended up at a quaker boarding Schooling York doc and and over the years having talked a lot of scientists. It's often one K. teacher. Yes it has a defining influence in their lives jobs and that Boone's on well into their adult life. Yeah I was at a girl's boarding school and girls schools goes goes. Boarding schools often have problems getting science teachers and we did. We had a brilliant physics teacher who'd come out of retirement for a second time to to teach us but he was superb. E quickly recognized that I could do physics and on one of the things he allowed me to do which wouldn't be allowed by health and safety these these days is he allowed me to go into the physics lab in the evenings with nobody else around and play with the equipment. One of the things I decided to do was is to make a lovely big charter of the magnetic field Rhonda magnet and of course she takes more than one night so I started the first night working on the bench second night. I couldn't get it lined up to carry on and I couldn't work out why I suddenly realized the magnet drawer was under the bench where I was working on. All all these magnetic fields were coming through the bench and during the day people had been in the drawer. The magnets were all rearranged magnetic field was different and that's why I couldn't continue my plot a lot of the things you learn for yourself they really stick well they do and and and we don't often get to have that sort of self directed exploration in Hansson Science no now we wouldn't these days either in Britain because of health and safety yeah that's right and it's highly formulaic and it's all very structured election and stuck with curriculum. I'm not exaggerating somewhat but that was my experience I think that's probably true to a fair degree. Accept these days kids get to do projects which are a bit more open ended and self directed when you go to Glasgow University was at a shock then you'd been in this this girl school. You'd had a supportive physics teacher. You've been directing rounds. Experiments as a teenager was a shock to get inside that lecture hole whole way. You were the only woman in my final two years. I was the only woman in the earlier years where other women are aren't but for the junior and senior in your honors I was the only woman doing honors physics at that time in Glasgow. It was the inquest tradition that when a woman entered entered the lecture theatre all the guys whistled stomped catcalled Bangladesh ask made as much noise as possible and it's one thing facing that in a group of women and you know walking in together but walking in your own it was tougher but blushing of course would increase the volume of the noise and I discovered that you can control control your blushes. I've lost the technique but I know I could do it and I did. Do it. Regularly see you walk in. You know sorta pretending you don't hear offering no reaction to them. Just walk in and take a seat. You could've walked at that point and you didn't why because I knew at that stage in fat anew from my I mid teens that I wanted to be a radio astronomer and getting a physics degree was one of the steps central steps along that road so I had to get that physics degree dogged yep doesn't do badly in life lock engineering astronomy in your country and as probably early on the twelfth if women in no no no I can give you the figures good the figures I have worldwide figures from the International Astronomical Union and I find these figures very important because they prove behind tote the it's not women's brains that are deficient if you look at the worldwide data on women astronomy the word averages about seventeen percent female of professional astronomers under strategy is right on the world average. Wjr The other English. Speaking Countries are clustered just below Australia. This is the first hint that we're dealing with something cultural and then his Argentina Argentina is phenomenal. South American countries in general have quite high proportions of women so do the southern used to be Catholic it countries in Europe France Italy Spain whereas the northern European used to be Protestant countries they very very few women Germany and the Netherlands silence and right down the bottom surprise surprise are India and Japan which are in single figures what's going on in Argentina at something like video forty eighty percent. Isn't it yeah there. I think different things probably going on in different parts of the world. One issue is hope prestigious astronomy seen can have all the man gone to engineering because that's considered more prestigious which is is not why astronomy has quota women or is it because ause. Argentinian women's delivered near their parents and the parents can help with a child minding K. or is it because there are lots of state date childminding facilities or is it because this great diversity of incomes and there's a lot of poor women who are very happy to come in and be your nursemaid made cook do the laundry while you go off and be an astronomer. I think there's probably lots of different factors and different ones way in different countries race but it's really interesting to see that data and gradually over the years. All the numbers are ramping up. You know a percent or two every few years certainly the physics community which is the one I know best could benefit from more diversity diverse divall sorts not just gender because it's very well established. I know that if you have a research group that's diverse with people coming out the problem from different angles. It's likely to be more successful. Alana a more monochromatic group. Shall we say a less diverse group that that's now very well established in business in research and all sorts of various areas. It does need good management such a group. It's harder to manage than a group of people who think like you but his ultimately much much more successful so I think one of the things actually is to get more scientists trainers manage good managers of groups which I'll probably get lynched for saying but think actually that's important. We'll muddle bench. Scientists might good ladies but you have loved leading that sits aims. There are some bench scientists that probably won't be leaders but actually really an awful lot of people can be leaders with a little bit of encouragement and assistance along the way but yes. I have enjoyed it very much. Led a number of organizations changed number of organizations. Do you have the phrase here serial offender. That'd be a serial president. I quite like looking at how organizations are functioning and saying well. You know if we adjusted this just a little bit. It would actually go better and would never have discovered. I was good at it if I'd been a regular scientist a regular mail scientists without any disruptions to my career but because because I have to do lots of different things in my life of actually got quite a range of experience which turns out to be useful sometimes it is a benefit uh-huh to career breaks or doing other things you know the only job I could get was as a such and such so okay. We'll do this and let's do it to the best of my ability and see what I can learn from. It will make it work. Damn Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Thank you so much for joining me. It's vein such a trait to talk to you. Thank you Natasha and Dame Bell Burnell visited see Saros Parkes Radio Telescope for the first time while she was here in Australia. More of half of all the pulses that have been detected have been detected by parks national sights has landed and we are asking you to dive with a virtual reef this year it's going to help scientists understand and classify. Carl's on the Great Barrier Reef Bia citizen scientists head to ABC dot net dot what I use slash science week also coming up if you're in Melbourne from September science friction live is coming to the Melba Museum. I cannot white for that. Stay posted. We'll put the details on our website. Nick show. I'll be coming to you from Hobart Baker Straight Science Festival with Mona Fonda Data Mathematical Gambler dive wash love to hear from you. Tweet me at Natasha Mitchell and thank you to Melissa Mason Engineer Oh and before I go also hi for science wake the ABC science is bringing you a stack of unsung secrets from science and I thought I'd snake mining here. It is the Deacon Little Day Pie and there's always more to the story spices full of secrets. I love thinking about the wiring that keeps us going the national science where he's an unsung secret of science now. This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the death of a scientist. I whose name you know will really well. We all do then. I'm Einstein on Yup Malaysia marriage on Stein what what does that mean. Albert Albert Einstein the most recognizable scientists of the twentieth century if not ever he of quantum physics fame minute climb and a Nobel prize. No I really do may Malaika on Stein's first wife she and Albert made his science Gedin Gedin scenes uric and fell in love and I shared a love of physics to Malaysia had been one of the first girls in Austria Hungary to study high school physics and she was the only woman in the polytechnic class together in March nine hundred one Albert wrote how happy and proud I will be when the two of us together gather. We'll have brought our work on relative motion to a victorious conclusion. Why does he what's he signed me our work on relative motion now not too poor to find a point on it but that's the work that led to the famous special theory of relativity which describes the constant spate of law. Russian has spice and time intimately linked which led to the general theory of relativity which pretty much changed our understanding of the universe versa nearly everything in it multiple accounts of Elbert Malaya's loft to give a now confirmed by collaborated on scientific projects on mathematical problems wrestling with them lighting to the night and hers support his scientific career on track when he was flying when she became pregnant Senate Elbert road imagine how lovely it will be when we will again be able to work together totally undisturbed Malaya's name never repeat on any of Elwood's famous papers and her legacy is debated to this day more Shia sounding board or a formidable collaborator as Elba's find skyrocketed. They relationship crashed Albert had an affair with his cousin Elsa who relied married Helena. My Big Albert is now a fairly famous. Albert has devoted himself completely to physics. It seems to me that he had a little time. If any family meriva raised their two sons one with debilitating schizophrenia and she night out mourns the loss of their daughter who other was adopted dad who died. It's not clear when they divorced. Malaysia is reported to have conceded making contributions work public but Albert Oh but pushed back calling her a non entity stating no one will pay the least attention to your rubbish. Most of the letters from Elba to Malaysia have been being preserved though they were suppressed from publication bodies estate for decades sadly though few of Malaya's latest to Elbert remain slow parts of her early life in science along side him will always remain a sacred an unsung sacred

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