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Archives, History & Records Office

Archives, History & Records Office | SLAC Research Library |

Last Updated: 08/26/2020

Hours: By appointment Monday-Friday during regular work hours.


Archives E-mail: slacarc[@]
RM E-mail: recordsmgt[@]
Phone: (650)926-3091
Post: SLAC Archives and History Office, M/S 82, 2575 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025.

Office Location: Bldg.50, Rm.122

Dick Taylor Story

Dick Taylor was definitely “old school” in the ways of Drell, Feynman, Bjorken, Gell- Man, Fritsch, Cronin, Schwartz, Barish,… His quest was fundamental physics – finding out new stuff about the ways the universe works. He longed to see what was on the next page of discoveries and devoted his career to this.

I met Dick mid-June of 1970. Newly graduated from Caltech, my former boss/mentor Alvin Tolestrup had put in a good word for me with Dick, who subsequently wangled me a job in his Group A at SLAC. He was wearing a white dress shirt, open at the collar with khaki pants, the fashion at the time mimicking Feynman’s preferences. Right off the bat he warned me that my summer salary would be diminished substantially when I started at Stanford in the fall and there was nothing that could be done about that. Group A was a leader in the deep inelastic eP and eD scattering experiments and the problem of the day was disentangling the effects of nuclear motion in deuterons so that eN scattering could be extracted. I dove in and Dick soon after linked me up with Geoffrey West from the Physics Dept. In that first meeting Dick explained that he couldn't formally be my advisor due to a long-standing schism with the Physics Dept.: I would have to have a co-advisor from the Dept. He'd arrange for Mel Schwartz to play that role and so I was sent off to meet with Mel!

Dick's management style was quite horizontal. He once shared that Pief had advised him to put the effort into choosing the right people for a task, but then "don't stand over them and tell them how much milk to put in the mash potatoes!" His office was part of a cluster of three offices with a secretary's desk in a vestibule space connecting them. Hobey Destaebler occupied the building's corner office, post docs and visitors in the other small office, and Marilou Arnold was the secretary at the front door. Dick's office was by far the largest of the three. His door was always open and he welcomed chance interruptions and visits by group members. Monday noontime was brown-bag lunch day where all met in Dick's office to hash over current activities. Another memorable set of meetings in that office was the ritual of going through a paper prior to journal submission. Painfully, line-by-line the paper was read aloud and discussed. But you know, the articles emerged better from that process and indeed, everyone who was an author was familiar with every word! What a far cry from today's journal submissions with hundreds if not thousands of authors many having never read the paper!

In the late 1960's and 1970's the use of computers in HEP experiments was becoming dominant. There were no "screens" – touch or otherwise. Programs were kept on IBM punch cards in boxes and results from running programs produced mountains of tractor-drive computer paper, which we often used to "landscape" office space with temporary walls! Dick was from the era in HEP just prior to this evolution and to my knowledge he never actually wrote and ran a computer program. But he had several around him who would fill in the gap. Dick had staffed Group A with an abundance of IT folks: Les Cottrell, Sunny Sund, Connie Logg, Dick Early,... not to mention the Group A physicists all of whom were facile in programming.

Dick shared a trait with my grandmother: he often would explain or offer advice using an old adage. These are well known: "you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make ’em drink," "a stitch in time saves nine," and so on. One that Dick loved was "never under estimate the stupidity in the world, never over estimate the evil." Yes, such good advice – how often we take a random, stupid act as being somehow malevolent! And another: a person's station in the world is inversely proportional to the number of keys on their key ring – a president has none while a janitor has many.

Dick and I shared a love for fly-fishing. We kept trying to find ways to "go fishing" together. In my latter grad school years this took the form of "playing hooky" from the lab and heading over to the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz to try for steelhead. Boy, were we way out of league! We only had mountain stream appropriate gear – steelhead are BIG and strong. We made a half dozen such forays and never even had so much as a hit. We did on one occasion see a high-schooler lock into one over by Dave Dorfan's house – Whow! What a show that fish put on, throwing water bank–to-bank in the San Lorenzo. The kid quickly disappeared down stream chasing the enraged fish. We also tried to go to the Sierra's to try our luck. It was Dick and Rita and me and my then-wife Marilyn in Dick's Cadillac convertible. We hadn't really made definite plans and just headed east. We stopped at a few rivers in the foothills that were accessible from the road – but not much doing. Dick's successful fishing adventures remained limited to his trips to Canada and mine to my backpacking excursions in the Sierras.

I interacted with Dick regularly over my tenure of 30 years at SLAC. First as a grad student, then post-doc and ultimately staff. There were way too many interactions to chronicle here but a few of the memorable ones follow. In my fourth year in grad school, early, on Sunday morning November 11, 1974, Dick called me requesting I come to the lab a.s.a.p. Upon entering his office about 8 am he told me of the spectacular find at SPEAR the night before: a resonance so narrow that it had been missed in previous energy scans. And by dint of being narrow, it was huge once sitting right on top of it: over a thousand times the counting rate to that on either side! The lab was just a buzz of excitement in the days that followed. Wild theories tossed around by all. But in the end it was realized that the SU(2) partner to the strange quark had been found, cementing the foundations to what we now call the Standard Model.

One of the best experiments I was lucky enough to participate in was E122 – Charlie Prescott's deep inelastic scattering experiment looking for parity violation. Dick threw himself "whole-hog" into this. Dick was very conservative with respect to making claims about experimental results and helped devise many cross checks for this experiment. We all know the results: E122 found the parity violation predicted by the Weinberg-Salam-Gashow theory and did so very convincingly. WS- G were awarded the Nobel shortly there after.

An illustration of Dick's drive to create and invent, while also showing his conservatism came in conjunction with the Super Delco proposal for PEP in the late 1970's. Dick berated me that we 'just had to find a cheaper, better way to make large area, EM shower calorimeters.' I came up with the idea of using the new-on-the- scene wavelength shifting plastic technology to readout a sampling shower counter. I was hell-bent on drilling holes and sticking rods of wavelength shifter down throw the stack of lead plates and scintillator and not having a great deal of success when Prescott suggested to just do the simple thing and put a thin slab of shifter down one side. Then the struggle to see a MIP signal with cosmic rays and again Charlie to the rescue! We packed the entire setup into a pickup and headed for the C-Beam where EGRET was undergoing calibration runs in an positron beam line. We got permission to stick our prototype wave-bar shower counter into the beam and immediately saw we had a winner: every scope trace fell right on top of the previous! Excitedly we made the first energy resolution measurements and wanted to write a NIM article announcing this new technique. Dick, while elated that a solution to large area shower detectors had been found was completely against a formal journal article: we hadn't done the required homework, cross checks, and… on and on. This forced us to settle for a SLAC technical note. It never appeared in a journal. But plenty of others around the world took notice and copied the idea.

The last science interaction I will mention was in conjunction with the spawning of the GLAST project. Dick had become friends with Peter Michelson from the campus Physics Dept. and thought that Peter and I would make a good team. For more than a year after I returned from a sabbatical leave at CERN in the fall of 1990, Dick tried to find a way to get us onto a common project. Then EGRET was launch in April of 1991 and its success begged for a follow-on mission and this was Dick's opening. Peter was the Stanford PI on the EGRET experiment. Elliott Bloom, also from the early days of Group A, had branched out from traditional particle physics and joined an x-ray detector experiment to be launch by the Air Force as part of the USA Satellite. So a beachhead at SLAC existed for "particle – astrophysics." Dick got Peter to thinking that it would be a good idea to come up to SLAC to discuss with HEP experimental types how to make a "better" EGRET. And so Peter and I finally linked up in May 1992 and the GLAST project was born. Dick was an enormous supporter and was a co-author on the first paper detailing the basic GLAST concept. The grumbling both at SLAC and in the HEP community at-large over the appropriation of resources to this new area of science was considerable and Dick was one of our strongest supporters and defenders. It could easily be the case that GLAST, at least in its current form, would not have come to fruition without Dick.

My contacts with Dick became few after I left the lab in 2000. We occasionally met at social events. But I know he remained very excited and keen about the GLAST project and hoped for some big surprises. And why not: extending the light (in gamma rays) gathering power by a factor of more than a hundred in a little explored area… But you have to try.

Dick was a superb manager of science projects and people. He belonged to the physics world that I grew up in and was one of the most respected experimenters of the later half of the 20th century. We will all miss him.

Bill Atwood
April 18, 2018