One of the UK’s leading female scientists is donating a £2.3 million cash prize from a top award 40 years after being snubbed by the Nobel Prize in favour of her male colleague.

Astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, 75, scooped the most lucrative prize in modern science for her discovery of radio pulsars.

The University of Glasgow graduate has been chosen as the recipient of a Breakthrough Prize four decades after the same discovery earned her male collaborator a Nobel Prize, but controversially left her uncredited.

Now Dame Jocelyn wants to use the award money to challenge “unconscious bias” in science by funding a scholarship for female and minority students to become physics researchers.

She said: “I don’t want or need the money myself and it seemed to me that this was perhaps the best use I could put to.

“Those are the people that tend to be discriminated against through unconscious bias, so I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why there aren’t so many. If they come with some funding with them, then they look much more attractive.”

Born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, Dame Jocelyn’s scientific career began in Glasgow in the 1960s.

She graduated with honours in physics from the University of Glasgow in 1965, before moving on to Cambridge where she made the ground-breaking discovery.

While poring over data from a new radio telescope she helped build, Dame Jocelyn spotted a faint and unusual signal: repeating pulses of radio waves.

She was able to characterise the signal and show it originated from space, eventually identifying it as a rapidly spinning neutron star.

Despite her achievement, Dame Jocelyn previously admitted to feeling like an imposter, revealing that she felt as if the university had “made a mistake” admitting her.

Edward Witten, chairman of the Breakthrough Prize’s selection committee, said: “Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s discovery of pulsars will always stand as one of the great surprises in the history of astronomy.

“Until that moment, no-one had any real idea how neutron stars could be observed, if indeed they existed.”

Dame Jocelyn will be handed the Breakthrough Prize at a star-studded ceremony in the US in November, 50 years after the discovery. Previous winners include Stephen Hawking and seven scientists behind the discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle.

The award also recognises Dame Jocelyn’s scientific leadership. A role model and champion for young students, especially women in science, she has remained immersed in astronomy work, championing science, education and the Stem curriculum.

She was the first female president of the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Edinburgh and is currently a visiting professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford.

This year Bell Burnell was named Chancellor of the University of Dundee after receiving an honourary degree from the institution in 2017. She was also the recipient of an honorary scientific doctorate from the University of Glasgow in the late 90s.

Professor Dame Julia Higgins, president of the Institute of Physics, said: “This is an excellent and hugely appropriate acknowledgement of Jocelyn’s work. Her discovery of pulsars still stands as one of the most significant discoveries in physics and inspires scientists the world over.

“Her example of using insight and tenacity to make a discovery that rings through the ages stands her alongside the greatest of scientists.”

“Alongside her scientific achievement, Jocelyn has become a hugely respected leader in the scientific community. She has been instrumental in making sure the issue of access to science by people from under-represented groups is at the very top of the science community’s agenda.”

While the Nobel Prize win left Bell Burnell uncredited for the achievement for most of her career, the scientist is not embittered.

She said: “I feel I’ve done very well out of not getting a Nobel Prize. If you get a Nobel Prize you have this fantastic week and then nobody gives you anything else.

“If you don’t get a Nobel Prize, you get everything that moves. Almost every year there’s been some sort of party because I’ve got another award. That’s much more fun.”