Dowling College’s 50th Commencement Ceremony
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Dr. Joseph H. Taylor, Jr.
Honorary Degree Recipient
Dowling College is honored to confer an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters to Dr. Joseph H. Taylor, Jr. at Dowling College’s 50th Commencement Ceremony to be held on Saturday, May 19, 2012, at the Brookhaven Campus in Shirley.
Dowling College Board Chairman Michael P. Puorro will confer the degree during the undergraduate commencement ceremony.
“We are honoured to recognize Dr. Taylor for his exceptional contributions to physics and his lifelong passion to share his scientific discoveries with students and associates,” said Dowling College President Jeremy D. Brown. “As a former colleague from Princeton University, I am delighted to welcome Dr. Taylor to Dowling College in celebration of our 50th commencement ceremony.”
Dr. Taylor is a renowned American radio astronomer and physicist who, with Russell A. Hulse, was the co-recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Physics for their joint discovery of the first binary pulsar.
Born in Philadelphia, Taylor entered Haverford College in 1959 where he majored in physics, although soccer, basketball, baseball, golf, and tennis claimed much of his energy during his Haverford years. He graduated in 1963 with a B.A. degree and entered the doctoral program in astronomy at Harvard University.
Taylor has said that time spent in the Harvard academic departments of astronomy, physics, and applied mathematics was the hardest he ever remembers working, at least during his first year. “I suppose every beginning graduate student feels that he or she has something to prove; anyway, I certainly did,” he said. Taylor was awarded his Ph.D. in 1968 and spent the next year as a research fellow and lecturer in astronomy at Harvard. In 1969, he joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst as an assistant professor of astronomy. In 1973, he was named an associate professor and, four years later, elevated to full professor.
While at the University of Massachusetts, Taylor was approached by one of his graduate students, Russell Hulse, in search of a thesis project. The pair agreed on an undertaking involving the use of the 984-ft (300-m) diameter Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, the world’s largest single-element radio telescope, to search the skies for the weak radio signals emitted by pulsars. In analyzing the results of a pulsar detected, Taylor and Hulse noticed an unexpected variation in the pulsar’s period. The bursts were not perfectly regular like those of known pulsars, and the irregularity revealed that there were actually two pulsars, orbiting each other.
According to a press release from the Royal Swedish Academy, “Hulse’s and Taylor’s discovery in 1974 of the first binary pulsar, called PSR 1913 + 16 ... brought about a revolution in the field.” Over a period of almost 20 years, Taylor and Hulse made detailed observations of the behavior of these stars in orbit. They discovered that the path the pulsars followed is changing: their orbit is contracting and the two stars are rotating at greater speeds as they grow closer to each other.
Their examination of the timing of the pulses provided the first evidence for the existence of what Sky & Telescope calls the “magnetic aspect of gravity.” The small changes Taylor and Hulse have detected are consistent with this prediction; even the rate of change very nearly matches the rate Albert Einstein predicted it would follow.
In 1980, Taylor moved to Princeton University, where he became a James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Physics, and later the Dean of Faculty. During his tenure at Princeton, Taylor and a graduate student discovered another binary pulsar. His work has raised the possibility of creating a new branch of astronomy, called gravitational wave astronomy, which would enable astronomers to gather evidence about a number of events in the universe that they currently cannot observe. He subsequently retired in 2006.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Taylor received the Dannie Heineman Prize from the American Astronomical Society and American Institute of Physics in 1980, a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, the National Academy of Sciences’ Henry Draper Medal and Tomalla Foundation Prize in gravitation and cosmology in 1985, and the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1992. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Taylor married Marietta Bisson on January 3, 1976. They have three children.
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Dowling College combines academic excellence with a quality college-life experience as an independent, coeducational college that serves more than 5,000 students at three convenient Suffolk County, Long Island campuses: the historic Rudolph-Oakdale Campus on the banks of the Connetquot River, the Brookhaven Campus and aviation facility adjacent to the Brookhaven airport, and the Melville Center in the heart of Long Island's business district. Dowling's community of leading educators and staff personally contribute to the success of every student offering bachelor's and master's degrees in several disciplines through four schools: Arts and Sciences, Aviation, Business, and Education; and a doctoral degree in educational administration.