PROFESSOR Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist of great repute, best known for discovering pulsars - rapidly spinning neutron stars.

Yesterday she found herself a star in a different firmament, after it was announced that she was to become the first female president in the 230-year history of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland's national academy of science and letters. She will take up her post in October.

Dame Jocelyn is living proof of the great progress that has been made in breaking down barriers to women in many walks of life. The glass ceiling has been shattered in our universities, colleges and in our schools. But there is a bigger, more fundamental challenge to be tackled - that of breaking down barriers in the home.

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Dame Jocelyn says girls are often deterred from pursuing a career in the sciences due to gender conditioning that still exists within families and it appears that mothers, sisters and aunts remain disdainful of ambitions that veer towards the test tube and the microscope.

It is to be hoped Dame Jocelyn's impending elevation will help more young girls reach for the stars.