Geoffrey Ingram Taylor

Born: 7 March 1886 in St John's Wood, London, England
Died: 27 June 1975 in Cambridge, England

Geoffrey Taylor was a grandson of George Boole and Alicia Stott was his aunt. He attended school in Hampstead, and there he began to find his love of science. At the age of 11 he attended a series of children's Christmas lectures on The principles of the electric telegraph and these made a strong impression on him. He was introduced to William Thomson at one of these lectures and Lord Kelvin told him he had been friendly with Geoffrey Taylor's grandfather George Boole.

In 1899 Taylor went to University College School and in 1905 he won a scholarship to study at Trinity College, Cambridge. There he read mathematics, attending lectures by Whitehead, Whittaker and Hardy. After taking part I of the mathematics tripos he moved towards physics taking part II of the physics tripos. He then won a scholarship to undertake research at Trinity College.

One of his first pieces of research was a theoretical study of shock waves where he extended work by Thomson. This work won him a Smith's Prize. In 1910 he was elected to a Fellowship at Trinity College. The following year he was appointed to a meteorology post and his work on turbulence in the atmosphere led to his publication Turbulent motion in fluids which won the Adams Prize at Cambridge in 1915.

The outbreak of World War I saw Taylor offer his services and he was sent to Farnborough to use his scientific skills in the design and operation of aeroplanes. Here he worked on the stress on propeller shafts. This led him to think about the limiting strengths of materials and this influenced some of his later projects.

After World War I Taylor returned to a lectureship at Cambridge. One of the topics he worked an at this stage was an application of turbulent flow to oceanography. He also worked on the problem of bodies passing through a rotating fluid.

In 1923 Taylor was appointed to a Royal Society research professorship. This enabled him to stop teaching which he had been doing for the previous four years. As Batchelor writes in [2]:-

He was not a natural lecturer and not much interested in teaching...
At this stage Taylor made a great many fundamental steps in the study of fluids. This period is described in [2]:-
His investigations in the mechanics of fluids and solids covered an extraordinary wide range, and most of them exhibited the originality and insight for which he was now becoming famous.
He undertook research on the deformation of crystalline materials, work which led from his World War I work at Farnborough. Among the many topics he studied was also another major contribution to turbulent flow, where he introduced a new approach through a statistical study of velocity fluctuations.

During World War II Taylor again worked on applications of his expertise to military problems such as the propagation of blast waves, studying both waves in the air and underwater explosions.

Taylor continued his research after the end of the War, taking the opportunity to complete some more thorough investigations into problems which pressure of finding solutions had prevented him from taking further previously. He retired in 1952 but he continued his work at Cambridge with little evidence that his status had in any way changed until 1972. In that year he suffered a stroke from which he only partially recovered. During his last three year he suffered the frustrations of wanting to get back to scientific work although his physical condition would not allow it.

Taylor received many honours during his life. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1919, winning its Royal Medal in 1933 and its Copley Medal in 1944:-

... for his many contributions to aeodynamics, hydrodynamics, and the structure of metals, which have had a profound influence on the advance of physical science and its applications.
Also in 1944 he was knighted and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1969. He was elected to membership of academic societies in many countries including the United States, France, Italy, Sweden, The Netherlands, India, Poland and the USSR. He received honorary degrees from more than a dozen universities throughout the world and over twenty Medals for his outstanding contributions to applied mathematics. He published over 250 papers in his long career on applied mathematics, mathematical physics and engineering. His contribution is summed up in [2] as follows:-
Taylor's work is of the greatest importance to the mechanics of fluids and solids and to their application in meteorology, oceanography, aeronautics, metal physics, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering. The nature of his thinking was like that of Stokes, Kelvin and Rayleigh, although he got more from experiments than any one of these three. He had the rare honour of seeing his scientific papers, some previously unpublished, gathered together and published in four thick volumes during his lifetime.
Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
List of References (10 books/articles)
Mathematicians born in the same country
Honours awarded to Geoffrey Taylor
(Click a link below for the full list of mathematicians honoured in this way)
Royal Society Copley Medal Awarded 1944
Royal Society Bakerian lecturer 1923
LMS De Morgan Medal Awarded 1956 

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JOC/EFR November 1997

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