A Northern Ireland-born astrophysicist has become only the second woman to be awarded the world's oldest scientific prize, for her work on the discovery of pulsars.

Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell was awarded the Copley Medal, the Royal Society's highest prize.

Other recipients include Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin.

Prof Bell Burnell said: "I am delighted to be the recipient of this year's Copley Medal, a prize which has been awarded to so many incredible scientists.

"With many more women having successful careers in science, and gaining recognition for their transformational work, I hope there will be many more female Copley winners in the near future.

"My career has not fitted a conventional - male - pattern.

"Being the first person to identify pulsars would be the highlight of any career; but I have also swung sledgehammers and built radio telescopes; set up a successful group of my own studying binary stars; and was the first female president of the Institute of Physics and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

"I hope that my work and presence as a senior woman in science continues to encourage more women to pursue scientific careers."

The award includes a £25,000 gift which Prof Bell Burnell will add to the Institute of Physics' Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund, providing grants to graduate students from under-represented groups in physics.

She is one of 26 medal and award winners announced by the society, recognising research and outstanding contributions in the fields of advancing quantum computing, revolutionising prenatal testing, and challenging racist pseudoscience.

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Herstory: Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Astrophysicist

In 1967, she discovered radio signals called pulsars coming from rapidly spinning, super-dense neutron stars.

The study of pulsars has since led to some of the most stringent tests of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and the first observational evidence for gravitational waves.