Future Physicist Praises Astronomer for Helping Women Reach for the Stars


Teenager Abbie Johnston prepares for NASA space camp


A future theoretical physicist has thanked Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell for acting as a role model for young women wanting careers in science.

Abbie Johnston (16), from Maxwelltown High School, Dumfries and Galloway, was introducing Prof. Bell Burnell – the astronomer who discovered pulsars and current President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh – at a three-day festival of art and science.

The Solar Flare – Earth Shield festival of the solstice marked the first birthday of Crawick Multiverse, a 55-acre artland near Sanquhar and Kirkconnel inspired by space, astronomy and cosmology.

On Friday evening at Sanquhar Town Hall Prof. Bell Burnell gave the first of a series of talks by some of the UK’s leading science.

Ms Johnston, who is heading for a NASA space camp in the USA later this year, said: “I have been really inspired by Professor Bell Burnell and want to thank her for all she has done.

“She has helped break down barriers and shown that there is inequality in science – and she has proved that the barriers are not within women themselves.

“There are too few women you hear about like Professor Bell Burnell – it would be good to hear more about ones who have made achievements like hers.”

Attending the NASA space camp will give Ms Johnston, who is described by her school as “an exceptional student” and who wants to be a theoretical physicist, the chance to meet, mix and carry out projects with other young scientists from around the world.

Prof. Bell Burnell is keen to see young women given every possible encouragement in science. She said: “I think it’s important for young women to have female role models, but mentors are even more important and they don’t have to be female.

“Things are getting better for women in science – but slowly. Perhaps I am impatient but it’s not changing fast enough for me.”

She also praised the festival for bringing together “such an impressive range of talents” from the arts and science.

The main attractions of the festival were:

  • The opening of Landscape of Waves, a collaborative exhibition by Charles Jencks and Alex Rigg at the Merz Gallery in Sanquhar.
  • Lectures around the theme ‘Our Sun, Our Star’ organised by the RSE. The speakers were leading scientists Professor Ineke De Moortel of the University of St Andrews, Professor Yvonne Elsworth FRS of the University of Birmingham, Professor Lyndsay Fletcher of the University of Glasgow and Professor Jim Wild of the University of Lancaster.
  • A full day of events on Sunday at Crawick Multiverse with performances by schools, artists and community groups plus the unveiling of Sun Flare – Earth Shield, a new artwork by Charles Jencks.

Many local schools and organisations are involved in the festival such as Kirkconnel and Kelloholm Gala Committee, The Sanquhar Riding of the Marches Association and Upper Nithsdale Youth Pipe Band.

The Crawick Multiverse was created by Charles Jencks, an internationally renowned landscape artist, as a world-class artland and visitor attraction which has regenerated a former open caste coal mine in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.

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