This article was published here in 2018. However just recently Professor Burnell gave an online talk entitled The Last and Next 100 Years of Astronomy. I thought you might like to read my article again and then listen to her talk which is embedded below. I found it very interesting.
In 2018 Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell from Northern Ireland was awarded a significant prize. The Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. This was for her scientific achievements and inspiring leadership. Subsequently she gave the entire £2.3 million prize away to assist female, minority and refugee students towards an education physics. Hence the announcement reminded me of her generous nature.
My article below is an account of her lecture at Trinity College in Dublin. Her lecture gave voice to Stanley Eddingtons work. Eddington’s work gave voice to Albert Einsteins work. Similarly Professor Burnell’s lecture gave voice to both of them. The fact that Professor Burnell gave away her award to help others is a testament to her personality and beliefs. A woman true to herself, an inspiration to us all.
Event – BA Festival of Science Lecture Sept 8th 2005 – Trinity College Dublin Ireland
Speaker – Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell CBE – Oxford University
Professor Burnell came to Trinity College Dublin not to speak about her own work in the discovery of pulsars. She came to deliver a lecture about Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944). Eddington was an English-born astronomer who was instrumental in expounding the theories of Albert Einstein. Professor Burnell has an interest in the public understanding of science and has a penchant to present physics topics to the general public.
Arthur Stanely Eddington in brief
Stanley Eddington was born in Kendal in 1882. As a child, he had a fascination with numbers. He excelled academically achieving a maths degree in the short space of two years. After graduating he won the Smiths prize. He was appointed to the Royal Observatory Greenwich where he improved and developed practical observational techniques.
Professor Burnell relayed that Eddington was a popular member of “The Dinner Club”. Apparently he did not drink. Therefore if you sat beside him at dinner you were likely to get his share of wine. He was made secretary of The Royal Observatory Greenwich in 1912. At the age of 31 he became Plumian Professor of Cambridge. Eddington was a Quaker by faith, his primary belief that there is god and good within everybody was significant in his life.
He did not get caught up in the mass hysteria of anti-German feeling that permeated Europe before WWI. Eddington was a pacifist, he avoided the war as a conscientious objector. He did get called to account for his stance but still managed to get out of fighting by being proved far too valuable a scientist.
Eddington was one of the few people to read and understand Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. At that time German scientists were being expelled from The Royal Society. Einstein gave up his nationality in 1901, he became a Swiss citizen. However, this failed to protect him from the anti-German climate of the time. Eddington with his fundamental belief in the good in everyone set out to prove Einstein’s ideas practically.
Solar Eclipse 1919
He used the solar eclipse of May 29th 1919 to show one of the principles of relativity. A known group of stars, the Hyades star cluster is observed at night as usual. Then in the unusual circumstances of a total solar eclipse-the sun is observed against the same star cluster. Some of the stars in this cluster appeared out of position as their light had bent around the mass of the sun.
Sir Arthur Eddington stationed himself on an island off the western coast of Africa. He sent another group of British scientists to Brazil. Their measurements of several of the stars in the cluster showed that the light from these stars was indeed bent as it grazed the Sun.
Eddington’s team exposed 16 photographic plates in 5 minutes. The idea was to capture the eclipse and the possible apparent shift in the position of the stars. This research eventually confirmed Albert Einstein’s theory that as light passes a very massive star, its path is bent due to gravity.
Eddington exposed photographic plates to record the eclipse. This revealed that the stars of the cluster were not masked by the Sun’s mass. The light from them was bent or curved by the Sun’s mass, appearing on the developed plates. That fact was established by Eddington, therefore, proving the prediction of Einstein correct. The light never changes course, but merely follows the curvature of space. Astronomers now refer to this displacement of light as gravitational lensing.
A little poem
“Oh leave the Wise our measures to collate
One thing at least is certain, light has weight
One thing is certain and the rest debate
Light rays, when near the Sun, do not go straight. “ A.S.Eddington
Eddington was a wonderful communicator of science theory. He was at the forefront of popularising Einstein’s work. In brief he made Albert Einstein’s work popular. His understanding did this, and equally his desire to simplify Einstein’s theory for general consumption.
Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell in her lecture on September 8th 2005 continued that achievement of clear communication for both Albert Einstein and Arthur Eddington.
I would like to acknowledge Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, for her kind advice and support in the development of this article. Publish formerly in 2005 by Realta ( Tullamore Astronomical Society) and Orbit ( Irish Astronomical Society)
Here is an article about Professors Burnell’s award
Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s recent lecture for The Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies