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Roger John Tayler (1929–1997)

Published onJan 01, 1997
Roger John Tayler (1929–1997)

Roger Tayler, a Publisher Affiliate member of AAS, died 23 January 1997 after a long fight against cancer. He was a distinguished and versatile astrophysicist, contributing to our understanding of the structure and evolution of stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole. He also did important work on the stability of laboratory plasmas. As an officer of the Royal Astronomical Society and editor of its journal, he gave outstanding service to the astronomical community, both nationally and internationally. Many of his students now hold senior positions over the world.

Tayler was born (on 25 October 1929) and bred in Birmingham, going up to Clare College, Cambridge as a scholar, graduating in 1950, and winning a share in the Mayhew Prize, awarded for performance in Part III of the Mathematical Tripos. He worked for his PhD in theoretical astrophysics with Hermann Bondi as his supervisor. In his words, Tayler was just about the last person to tackle the equations of stellar structure with the aid just of a mechanical desk calculator. His thesis work included an important pioneering paper on chemically inhomogeneous stellar models that arise naturally from the conversion of hydrogen into helium in the hot central regions.

After a postdoctoral year at Caltech and Princeton, Tayler returned to England to work (1955-61) as Scientific Officer in the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell. There he wrote—parallel to but independent of Marshall Rosenbluth in the USA and V. Shafranov in the USSR—papers on the problem of the "stabilized pinch," in which a perfectly conducting cylindrical current has its gross instabilities removed by an axial magnetic field within conducting walls. In 1961, Roger returned to Cambridge to work with Fred Hoyle on nuclear astrophysics. His contribution to this problem was a careful calculation of the relative abundances of the elements near the "iron peak." Shortly before the 1965 discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, Hoyle and Tayler published a landmark paper, pointing out the importance for cosmology of observations of the helium abundance in different objects. Both earlier calculations and their own yielded a theoretical helium abundance somewhat higher than that inferred from observation. However, Tayler in particular stressed that the computations were sensitive both to the number of neutrino types and to the lifetime of the neutron. His words were prophetic. Over the years, new measurements have steadily reduced the neutron lifetime to a value that appears to remove the discrepancy; and the realization that the helium abundance could tell us the number of neutrino types has become a major link between particle physics and cosmology. In 1967, Roger left Cambridge to join William McCrea in the build-up of the Astronomy Center at the University of Sussex. Not surprisingly, he proved a very able administrator, serving a five-year stint as Dean, supervising many M.Sc. and D. Phil. students, and maintaining his own research momentum in problems of stellar magnetism and the chemical evolution of galaxies. Roger Tayler was a superb teacher, clear without being prolix. This is apparent in his papers and review articles and in his monographs, which have a world-wide readership among both students and faculty: The Stars: their Structure and Evolution, The Origin of the Chemical Elements, Galaxies: Structure and Evolution, and, most recently, The Hidden Universe and The Sun as a Star, the last was written in the period of remission during his last illness. He served the Royal Astronomical Society for over twenty years, sequentially as Secretary, Treasurer, and President, and acted as Managing Editor of the Society's Monthly Notices over about the same period. Recognition of his services to astronomy in general came with the award of the OBE in 1990, and of his research with election to the Royal Society in 1995. In 1989, Roger was diagnosed as suffering from myeloma, forcing him to retire a year early from the RAS presidency. The technical expertise and dedication of the staff at the Royal Marsden Hospital and the devoted support of his wife (Moya Elizabeth Fry Tayler, m. 1955) gave him a six and a half year period of remission. With characteristically quiet courage and dignity, he carried on teaching and research, even giving a lecture course after his official retirement. The disease recurred during 1996, and he finally succumbed in January 1997, peacefully and in full control of his faculties. A more extensive version of this material appeared in The Independent (London) on 28 January 1997, and a complete appreciation of Tayler's life and work should appear in the Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society (London) in due course.


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