« Desert Island Discs

Classic Desert Island Discs: Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

2019-04-28 | 🔗
Another chance to hear Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell choose her Desert Island Discs, with Sue Lawley. First broadcast 24th December, 2000. Jocelyn Bell Burnell was only twenty-four when she made the discovery of a lifetime: As she was mapping the universe for her PhD, she chanced upon the radio signal for a totally new kind of star, known as a 'pulsar'. Her find is seen as one of the most important contributions to astrophysics in the twentieth century.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Bbc sounds music. Radio podcast learn the venue desert island discs is taking it to usual easter break for the next few weeks. So to keep me going until it back on, there will be showcasing a few programs from out back catalogue as usual, as this is a podcast. The music has been shortened for rights reasons this week. The castaway is dame professor Jocelyn bell burnell, who was interviewed by sudeley at christmas, two thousand. michael way. This christmas is a physicist. Her particular field of endeavour is astronomy in which, as a practising quaker, her minute analysis of the infinite encourages. Both of science and who believe in god
the student in the sixties. She made a discovery which some said should have earned a share in the nobel prize, which went to her supervisor. She's philosophical about this episode content to have won her place in the scientific establishment as one of the handful of female professors of physics in this country, a passionate love of her subject makes her an eager communicator. Her work, she says, is like opening a sequence of doors? You lift your eyes to a further horizon at each stage and its staggering it's beautiful. She is the open university professor of physics, jostling bell. There now is also vast joscelyn. It seems
to me the more you discover the more you realize how fast the universe is. It is it very daunting working in such an infinite field, it can be both daunting and dangerous. Working with these big big things daunting for the obvious reason, the scale and home. I knew tat, we are dangerous because it can go to your head you're working with this grand stuff and you find something come across. Something and the danger is that you assume you're working with something cosmic when in fact, what you're working with is a flaw in your equipment,
You do need to keep your feet on the ground absolutely, but but nevertheless it must make you feel all of the time. It must remind you about how small we are, how how how many skill we are in the grand design of things. Yes, it does. I have to say, though, when you work as a professional astronomer, a physicist. You write down these very large numbers as a power of ten, that's the technical phrase, and you don't actually think about it. It's the only when you're talking to allay person- and you see their jaws drop and you realize afresh what you have just said. That's right and you ve you ve, drawn, I think,
jaw dropping analogy of grains of sand in a cathedral to illustrate that that that vision of space haven't you. Yes, this is one of the ones that I find most staggering. If you took her a big cathedral like saint Paul's or westminster, abbey cleared everything out to put two or three grains of sand in that cathedral, then the cathedral would be more densely.
with sand, then spaces with stars, because millions and millions of mars endless galaxies where part of one galaxy how many galaxies. Yes, there is a very nice rule of thumb that I like to quote, or a multiplication table its due to arthur Stanley haddington who died about sixty years ago, but he said there are a hundred thousand million stars in the galaxy and there are a hundred thousand million galaxies in the universe. Tell me about your first record. My first record is from the missile luba, an african me
the congolese mass. In fact, it's like the night sky. It gives me tingles the Mangano national class singing the sanctity from veto. Husbands miss oliver. Can it really be true joscelyn the two were into radio astronomy because it meant you didn't have to work by night. Yes, it's absolutely true. As a teenager, I needed my bed. I still do, but I'm getting circles. You measure, therefore, that the radio waves by day, which is what you didn't, have to look at it in the night sky, right in radio
astronomy, the sun does not dominate the sky, the way it does in the visible the optical, so radio astronomers are much less sensitive to day and night and they just operate four hours a day? It does seem that you lived your professional career if you like the wrong way round, because you made this amazing discovery right at the outset. Didn't you you, twenty four years old, a student and- and it really was something that rocked the academic establishment on its heels- that that's just
If we can understand exactly what it was, it was nineteen, but his mid sixtus was yes middle too late sixties. What were you doing? I was working for my higher degree and my particular piece of research was to map the sky that was visible from cambridge and pick out some of the most distant objects in the universe, but you're say map it map it in a very particular way were map it. It radio, wavelengths, make a radio map of the sky and that's a hugely physical business. Constructing the equipment was hugely physical us for the first couple of years that I was in cambridge. It was mostly manual labor,
why? Because you were setting up lots and lots of cables and and and posts that you banged him with a sledge hammer in in the vast field? Yes, we were actually building our own home made radio telescope. It looks like a giant hartfield, it's about four acres of wooden posts, although what actually comes from a scientific point of view. Is the cop aware that strung along the top of it? hosts by nineteen sixty seven. It was up and running. When did you begin to spot that there was something interesting going on very soon afterwards within the first month or so
they began to be funny signal that I couldn't properly place. We were using paper chart, so those miles and miles miles of paper chart would need a locks on it. We yes with a pen red pen wiggling over this turquoise, checked chart paper. It was a very pretty also. We discovered that if you got some light on the pen traced, the pantries faded, you couldn't work our doors. So what did you spot? That was different, the signal that I was looking for was a particular kind of squiggles on the chart, because we had this enormous radio telescope. We also picked up radio interference on particular trouble with some pirate radio station to nose days, but also badly suppress cars. Sparking thermostats, these kinds of things all gave radio interference, so there were squiggles.
Due to radio interference and there was another squiggles, quite a small one, somehow didn't look quite like the squiggles. I was meant to be detecting it only occupied about a quarter of an inch illness chart paper, and it was four hundred feet of chalk paper for each scan of the sky, so is of a very small bit.
it was unclassifiable, it was unclassifiable that tried. It was a problem because it was unclassifiable, and I think I am right in saying that you you did consider it was possible. It was some other form of life out there. Yes, it was such a curious signal that, to begin with, we were absolutely convinced there was something wrong with the equipment, and this was a very difficult time for me, because it was I connected up all the wires and I was desperate afraid I had got somewheres crossed and I was about to be booted out of cambridge, but we, finally, after some tests, gave the equipment a clean bill of health answered, speak, moved the problem, one stage further away and thought about interference, and it wasn't that moved the problem one stage further away in well. If there are other civilizations out there, the radio astronomers are probably the people who first make contact with them, for you thought it could be a little green men,
so we have been chest. Half seriously wondered if this was little green men, yes and it wasn't, did you have wanted to be? No, I was actually very relieved for me. The really sweet moment was when I find the second of these things, whatever they were and that kill the idea of it being little green men, but I'm writing in thinking onto that. There was a point at which some one said: forget it it's just. It is an aberration. It's a flare star at something, that's died, it's got you listed. It was a bit odd, but he's gonna. Yes, this was particularly the case early in trying to pin down the first one because it went quiet for about a month and we thought it had been something ephemeral we missed it, but you persisted, I persisted. So this is a bell bernal bitter bell, banal temperament, I think give
I think it may be. My school teachers were noting that I had more persistence than many of the other kids. They taught this pause there feel second rico tell me whether second record is a piece of Mozart, a moat sort, horn, concerto and I've picked this particular peace, because its conducted by I own a brain. I came across I own, a brown quite early in my life. She and I were both itself hampton at the same time and I became a fan and have followed her career
He brown playing part of the second movement of Mozart's horn, concerto number to any flat major with the academy of said martin in the fields conducted by I own, a brown. So what was it? You'd fan Jocelyn? How important was it in this vast river of paper, these squiggles the scruff? What was it this quarter inch signal turned out to be a radio signals from a new kind of star, not little green men or anything more mundane like that this kind of star was quite undreamed off. It turns out that there are some very dense little stars out there in space there called neutron stars or pulsars pulsating stars pulsating, radio stars. Yes, there like lighthouses ocean space, they spin round They sweep a beam of radio waves round the sky. You call them, then I think, abolish a beacon. I think you're very early
yes, you regarding you die. Was that an end that was quite prescient? Wasn't it because, as I understand it, a use they could be put to it, is a kind of interstellar navigational aid. That's right, tony jewish. My former supervisor has painted the idea that they could be used as navigation beacons. Or interstellar travel. Now you mention tony huge, your supervisor on the project it was he, of course you got the nobel prize for the discovery of pulsating stars a few years later in nineteen. Seventy four did you feel miffed about not getting any credit for yourself. No. First of all, there is no nobel prize for astronomy, and this was the very first time that the people at allocate the physics price had decided that astronomers could be counted in, and I was very flattered that might stars were seen as the first astronomical physics price,
but with someone else's name attached to say my stars. Yes, yes, I don't drive you into being resentful about this, but I'm interested that you're not resent for their work actually much more complicated things going on in my life, then by nineteen. Seventy four, I had a small child, and I was struggling with- cannot bear to be at home all day. I am really missing the stimulus of intellectual life, but I've got a small baby for whom, have responsibilities so in a way you'd moved on. Did you not feel at all proprietor will? After all, after all that hardware, with a sledgehammer, but also, it has to be said. The persistence that you showed is we ve said going through those pieces of years time, and- things were a rather different in those days we say had a rather more hierarchical. Image of science is being done by a great man, and it always was
with a load of minions under him. Who did what he told him to didn't? Think we now have a much better understanding of science. Is a team activity, but had you the age of twenty four won. The nobel prize would have been very different, yes better. I think I would have had more recognition in the sense that glass ceilings would have been busted sooner we could number three record number three is an academic one, its brow, Mrs setting off these students, song gaudy, almost a guitar which have all the energy of student life in it
the chicago symphony MR conducted by Daniel barenboim, paying part of bronze academic festival overture it just in bell been out. You seem to have been exercised by gender from a very very early age.
was the most manifestation of it. Oh, what about eighteen months was the eldest child in my family. The next child was a boy we were living in northern ireland, but we had a lot of irish people around us. the new baby and I would be taken out for a walk by than any who meet up with some other nannies. Who would say? Isn't it marvellous that mrs bonino has some in my hearing, because in irish society the man count on the women? Don't this was what just about the end of the war. I think yes, but your parents wouldn't have been that mind whether you know parents, definitely were not, and I think we're quite horrified when they discovered what is good and what is your father was a professional use. An architect was yes answered at an a brain of britain, finalist ivy, yes,
he had tremendous general knowledge and was the northern irish finalist for several years. I think What did he encourage you in your love of science? In your interest in astronomy, I think, had an enormous influence. He was the architect for the armor observatory and occasionally I would go on site visits with him, mostly clambering, up amongst the rafters looking at leaks in the roof, but when these staff there find I was interested in astronomy, they were very kind to me and give me a lot of useful information and you had a good education. You seem to have spent a lot of the time. Pretending you weren't quite is bright, as you were I found that it wasn't socially acceptable for a girl to be a no all, particularly. in science? I think it has to be said and soon through, my teens. I develop techniques of this
icing my knowledge, posing statements actually as questions in what way all these new discussion about what was the biggest planet and I would say something like isn't it true that jupiters the biggest planet, my right, very tentatively, but why? Why did you feel to do that, because these social pressure in those days, particularly in mixed groups, was that the girls worthy the inferior sex. It was hardly mixed, of course, by the time you got to university in Glasgow. I think you're, the only physics to female physic student, when you in class of about fifty people doing honours physics. Yes, I was the only female. How is that?
was traditional at that time, that whenever a woman entered electricity at her old man, stamps from the benches whistled kept cold. So for my final two years of university, every class I went into I have to face that kind of barrage. Maaco number for my fourth choice is a scottish piece. I love scottish country dancing and I've picked a peace that I think might inspire me on a desert island, its is the real of the fifty first highland division and it was devised in prisoner of war camp by officers and men of the fifty first highland division. The eye
the idea of being isolated in some way and putting your energies into devising a scottish country dance? I think with an heartened me hugely, the at the fifty first thailand division played by the first battalion is a fifty first highland volunteers. So why Jocelyn, when you'd one all the sexist battles, you'd beaten the boys when the accolades got the degree, made a discovery which, as we say, rocked the academic world on his heels,
Why did you then really give in and fulfil those expectations that you too resented got I had a baby gave it all up. How do you want sometimes as well. The word tremendous social pressure on us. I remember noting at the time I got engaged between discovering pulsars numbers two and three, and I noticed at the time that people were much more willing to congratulate me on my engagement than congratulate me on making a major astrophysical discovery. Your problem was that having done that got- It had a baby given up the work. He roared out of your mind way. Yes, I wasn't out of work very long. I certainly was born out of my mind. I heard about a year out of work at that stage and then went back part time which seem to be the best compromise between my needs in society
its needs, and but what you end up doing, if I understand it, a right is following your husband in his job. He was a local government offices, yes outright and wherever he was posted, you went in and wrote a begging letter to the local astronomical place. Yes, I felt immensely for straight it and at times very depressed because we move to a new area. I'd get a job, it was probably a lowly job, but I work myself up the organization, then he chain his job, I'm going back to square one. on the plus side. I have a much broader experience of astronomy and a much broader experience of life than most of my male colleagues. Quantum mechanics and everything else that you went entire started teaching for the open university and doubt was tremendous and then just over ten years ago now. I think your marriage ended in putting aside the fact that the divorce is a miserable business again, wouldn't wish it on anyone there
was. It seems to me again because of the story of your life, for telling a positive side to it. For you his horse, all of a sudden. You could go way you wanted to go when you wanted to go, yes, suddenly have mobility, and its lack of mobility that many women suffer from me. No sitting duck suddenly finding herself single you're free. I was free to go and spent eighteen months in united states just recently and that at you very heavy experience, but we got liberated aged what nearly fifty yes but a record number five I number five is probably one of the records I most formed of and gain. I've chosen it with a desert island in mind, it's from VERDI's nabu coup and it's the course of the hebrew slaves and these are the hebrews in exile in slavery and homesick,
can hear their homesickness coming over them and then they recover a bit and then another wave comes over them and then they pick up a bit and so on it so true to life. It's great
because the hebrews needs from that isn't do can perform medical. was noticed her of last scholar, milan conducted by ricardo, muti urim, a quaker joscelyn, had been all of your life, which means that you know about silence. You know how to use it great effect to mind. Do mine describing what your worship means to you, how it works for you and your meetings there will. The quaker meeting is unstructured with each person worshipping trying to send the presence of god and
time during the hours silent, there will probably be one or two spoken contribution staying what kind of thing. Sometimes it stems from men unexperienced during the week, or it might be a piece of philosophy, tremendous ranger things, but you ve talked. I know about having some slightly strange experiences during these these quaker meetings that you sometimes almost had spooky experience. If I can guess, I do sometimes used the word spooky in colloquial sense. The incident that occurs to me most recently actually occurred in the united states. And somebody that I did not know was sitting just across from me and spoke about some of the questions of life and at the beginning of the meeting I had been reading a peace that I am very fond of from rilke about. Don't push too hard
answers but live the questions, and it seems right to read this piece out loud. So I did. I come across it at her funeral service in milton keens for a catholic, none who had died and it was read at her request. She died of cancer and I discovered that this unknown woman was also dying of cancer, and it was just watch needed to hear exactly. I didn't use to have any particular need for music until about ten or fifteen years ago, when I went to the soviet union as it then was on a visit to the russian orthodox church. I come from a quaker tradition, which is very, very simple, very, very plain meeting rooms and went into this russian orthodox environment, which
is incredibly beautiful, gorgeous icons, gold and things, and I was quite overcome by this really I when I came back realized, I was hooked on coral music and that's led me into other areas of classical music as well, so rachmaninoff fest, These are to remind me of that experience in the soviet union and hearing hours and a horse and hours of russian orthodox liturgy glorious
lest the lord o myself from rachmaninoff vespers, with the cardinal singers conducted by Matthew best. The fundamental question, of course, jostling for any scientist who believes in god is how can we reconcile the two? new accept and would tell anyone that ultimately, there is a rational, scientific explanation for how and why things come to be. How can you therefore believe in a supernatural forward? I do find that both sit comfortably, provided I'm not required to carry with me all the baggage that sometimes it
as to the christian got to you haven't got to be literal about it. Is that what you always require yourself to believe that god created the universe? Yes, that's right! Yes, I do believe in god. I do said the presence of god, but I dont require got to be the creator. Nor do I require god, be in control of the world. But there are scientists, as we know, and much respected ones- very well, known ones who spend a lot of time, making the point that there is no room for garden in an irrational universe. I've heard you criticise them before now for being so vociferous about that yes, that there are scientists to our thoroughly anti god, but equally I feel, there are scientists to try too hard to reconcile signs and religion, so I think there are pitfalls both way.
and, of course, I believe, I'm work walking the perfect tightrope goes, but but better today, seventh record the Seventh record is by Bernstein I've great respect for Bernstein, but I'm limited in the number of records I can take with me. So this one's doing double duty, its Bernstein serenade, but the soloists is hilary harm, she's, a very young american. I heard her play life and she was amazing. wrote in my diary. This nineteen year old will go places subsequent. He discover that she's out you already gone places. Thank you very much So this is hilary harm playing the bernstein serenade
Henry on playing part of the fourth movement of Bernstein serenade for solar violence, strings hop and precaution with the baltimore symphony orchestra conducted by David's inman. So justly bell banal. Have you got another nobel prize winning? Theory up your sleeve. No, I think, that's unlikely, but a button Stu normal or several astronomical puzzles. You quite like dissolve. Oh I've got some puzzles. I'd love to solve, I'm currently chasing a particular pair of stars in the constellation of sickness, which seems to break all the rooms in a most entertaining manner. I'd like to crack it before I retire, but it might win but sitting on your desktop
you'd have the time and space to crack it. I doubt it. I do my science in community, I not sure I would function as a scientist on a desert island. There is a great shame. I just had the impression it might be ideal for you, the side, and this is the space in the skies that it was right up used. Well, there of other strands to my personality, which I think would thrive quite well on a desert island particular. If I find myself thereafter very hectic spell, I think I would welcome it care where we won't send you for christmas. Shipwreck, you in early june. Thank you yes, sir about you. Last week, on the last day,. Court is John taverner and his music. I find quite touching it gets somewhere deep within one, and I think that would be good to have on a desert. Island
Stephen is less playing with great peace and serenity from John tavern is eternal memory with moscow virtuosi conducted by vladimir spivey of if you could only take one of those eight records just in which one would you take desperately difficult choice, but I think I'd go for the course of the hebrew slaves and then your book you ve, got, as you know, the bible in the complete works of shakespeare. What else? Yes, I'd like to have done Yes case, brothers karamazov, I believe it's a book that has many layers of meaning at many levels I meant to read it for years. Never have. I think this is the opportunity to read it and re. Read it and your luxury I've always wanted to improve my drawing and sketching skills. So I'd like a book on how to sketch and the generous supply of paper and sketching materials finds mode charcoal round the island. Maybe
just in bilbil now. Thank you very much indeed for letting his here, your desert discs and happy christmas. Thank you boy you?
we have listened to this and the environment are three or four papacy said he s a few centuries after a day across that wiped out most records of life. So when she finds an old recording, arrange for this has been in force for rifle nine part, three, nine part, two nine part sense starting palm lucky tawny, moody and thereby would we be music by the noble subscribed now on BBC sounds subscribe now,
Transcript generated on 2022-06-12.