Astronomer’s star billing at ceremony

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell with her award
Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell with her award
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The President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Dame Jocelyn Bell, is one of four people recently honoured for outstanding contribution to Scottish society.

Leading astronomer Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and three other prominent Scots have been honoured for their outstanding contribution to Scotland’s culture and society at a special ceremony at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness. The four individuals each received the 2016 Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun Award in recognition of their outstanding achievements in the fields of science, the arts and public life.

Dame Jocelyn was born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, in 1943. Her father, an architect, helped design Armagh Planetarium and she was drawn to his books on astronomy.

Her work after graduating from Glasgow University in 1965 took her to Cambridge, Southampton, and University College London before she returned to Scotland to work at the Royal Observatory from 1982 to 1991. From 1991 to 2001, she was Professor of Astronomy at the Open University. Dame Jocelyn was the second author out of five of the paper that announced the finding of pulsars, an achievement that won the lead author the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Her work has been recognised by the award of many prizes including the Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, important Fellowships including that of the Royal Society and honorary degrees from many British and US universities including Glasgow, St Andrews and Edinburgh.

Before becoming President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh she was President of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics.

Established in 1988, this year’s Fletcher of Saltoun Awards are part of a programme of events marking the Saltire Society’s 80th anniversary celebrations. They recognise outstanding contributions to Scottish society across different walks of life. The awards celebrate the legacy of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, a 17th century Scottish writer and politician and a keen patron of the arts during his lifetime.

Active Quaker Dame Jocelyn was honoured with a Fletcher of Saltoun Award for her “significant achievements in science and contribution to the study of astronomy” and Gaelic language activist John Angus Mackay received an award in recognition of his contribution to Scottish public life. Playwright and visual artist John Byrne and virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie were both recognised for their contribution to the arts and humanities.

Upon receiving the award, Dame Jocelyn said: “I am delighted, surprised and honoured by your decision – thank you very much. I have great pleasure in accepting.”

The award winners were announced as part of the Saltire Society’s 80th Anniversary Annual General Meeting.