At a social gathering during his undergraduate years, Richard Taylor made a discovery that has informed his teaching career. “Even as a student undergraduate, you didn’t want to necessarily admit that you were a physicist at a party,” he says. “I could tell that people were thinking, ‘What am I going to talk to this guy about?’ And I thought, ‘Why is it that for a subject I find so interesting—explaining the way the world runs—people don’t want to talk about it?’”
People love stories, he says, so thinking of his lectures as performances—“a bit like a rock concert, where you mix in the slow numbers along with the fast numbers”—Taylor uses a narrative format: He weaves some hard facts into a story line, eases off to let students digest information, then picks up the pace again. “I’m not a physicist because I love weird, hard equations; no one likes hard stuff,” he says. “You know, Paul McCartney didn’t need to have classical training to write great music. And you don’t need a PhD in physics for physics to be useful for you.”
Taylor’s research interests run the gamut from nanotechnology and quantum chaos to what he calls “the beautifully simple concept of fractals,” the fundamental building blocks of nature’s patterns. But, Taylor says, teaching is just as rewarding as his research. “My PhD students will go on to push the frontiers of physics,” says Taylor. “But I also teach about 750 students each year, most of them undergraduates, and they’re going to go out and spread the message that science is useful and interesting. That will also have a huge impact on society.”
Name: Richard Taylor
Education: PhD ’88, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Teaching Experience: Joined the UO faculty in 1999. Taylor has taught a broad range of courses at the UO and at institutions in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and across the United States. His research has informed undergraduate lectures in physics, art, and communication studies around the world and is featured in college-level educational DVDs.
Awards: At the UO, Taylor won both a Williams Fellowship for Innovative Teaching and the Thomas Herman Distinguished Teaching Award in 2010.
Off-Campus: Taylor enjoys distance running—he runs a half-marathon by the river every weekend. Originally from Cheshire, England, he also enjoys travel and has lived in five different countries.
Last Word: [From the movie Spinal Tap] “Have a good time, all of the time!”
—By Katherine Gries ’05, MA ’09