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02/10/95

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Nobelist gives popular lecture on astronomical test of Einstein's theory of gravity

STANFORD -- Nobel laureate Joseph H. Taylor Jr. of Princeton University will give this year's Robert Hofstadter Memorial Lecture. His subject is "Binary Pulsars and Relativistic Gravity."

The public is invited to the free lecture, which will be held at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, in Bloch Auditorium (Physics 100) on the Stanford campus.

Pulsars are rapidly spinning collapsed objects called neutron stars that give off radio waves. Because the radio waves vary in strength as the object rotates, pulsars have provided scientists with natural timepieces of extreme precision that are scattered throughout the visible cosmos. By studying these unusual objects, scientists have learned a number of important things about the universe.

Taylor will describe the results of studies of pulsars that orbit around companion stars, a phenomenon he and a graduate student first discovered nearly 20 years ago. By precise comparisons of "pulsar time" in such binary systems and terrestrial time, as measured with atomic clocks, scientists have been able to test Einstein's theory of gravity. In particular, they have demonstrated the existence of the gravitational waves that Einstein predicted.

The physicist will cover the same general subject, with equations, in an afternoon colloquium on "Timing Pulsars for Fun and Profit" that will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, in Physics 101.

In 1993, Taylor and his former graduate student Russell Hulse were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering the first binary pulsar. After detecting the pulsar, the two scientists determined the mass of the two neutron stars in the system and made a number of other unique measurements based solely on changes in the pulse period.

Taylor, who was born in 1941 in Philadelphia, was raised in a traditional Quaker family. He was educated mostly at Quaker institutions, in particular Moorestown Friends School and Haverford College. Through a senior honors project in physics, he began discovering "the delights of what science is really about." He finished his academic training at Harvard in the departments of astronomy, physics and applied mathematics. After serving on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts, he moved to Princeton University, where he has remained.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Taylor has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Wolf Prize in Physics, the Einstein Prize, the John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science, the Henry Draper Medal and the MacArthur Foundation Prize.

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