Taylor | Sir | Geoffrey Ingram | 1886-1975 | physicist, mathematician and engineer

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Geoffrey Ingram Taylor has been described as 'one of the great physical scientists of this century'. He was an intuitive, independent and original thinker with an 'adventurous curiosity' (Batchelor, 1996) in the tradition of Clerk Maxwell, Kelvin and Rayleigh. He was born and educated in London where his father was an artist. He decided to become a scientist at the age of eleven after attending lectures on telegraphy at the Royal Institution. He became an enthusiastic amateur, and with the assistance of his friends and his mother (a daughter of the scientist George Boole) he conducted experiments at home. Whilst still at school he constructed a sea-worthy sailing dingy in his bedroom. Some of his experimental methods were deceptively simple and used everyday objects such as adhesive tape, paint rollers and water-bells. Similarly, in later years he often illustrated his ideas with ingenious models. In his final year at the University College School he obtained a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied mathematics and natural science. He graduated in 1908 and was awarded a major scholarship. His first research paper in 1909 was on quanta. His later studies on continuum mechanics, meteorology and dislocation theory took place entirely at Trinity and the Cavendish Laboratories. During World War I he was employed by the Royal Flying Corps and trained as a pilot in order to better design aircraft propellors. From his knowledge of meteorology and working with wind tunnels in the laboratory he improved the design of aircraft wings. However, his greatest contribution to science was in fluid mechanics and the statistical theory of turbulence in which he was able to exercise his considerable gift in mathematics. His studies of velocity fluctuations and distribution arrived at a description of turbulence based on a statistical method that is still taught today. His investigation of the stability of steady flow between concentric circular cylinders in relative rotation was a classic investigation that established hydrodynamic stability studies as a branch of the science of fluid mechanics. During World War II he carried out experiments on the detonation and impact of high explosives, and later in the war this included nuclear work at Los Alamos. After the war his work in this and on the development of supersonic aircraft was of considerable importance to the government and he was a member of the Aeronautical Research Committee. He retired in 1952, but continued to work as before. He now concentrated on problems that he could work on in a simple laboratory - this suited his tendency to solve problems by reference to concrete images. For instance, it was not known in 1954 how to measure the second ceofficient of viscocity. Taylor devised a incompressible liquid with separated gas bubbles suspended in it. The dissipation of the gas in the liquid during expansion was a consequence of the shear viscosity of the liquid. Thus the bulk viscocity could be easily calculated. Other late work included the longitudinal dispersion in flow in tubes, movement through porous surfaces and the dynamics of sheets of liquids. His final research paper was published when he was 83, six years before he died. In this he resumed his interest in electrical activity in thunderstorms (jets of conducting liquid motivated by electrical fields). G.I. Taylor was essentially an applied scientist, for instance, in the 1930s he invented the 'CQR' anchor which was far stronger and more manageable and that any used hitherto - it was used for all sorts of smaller craft including seaplanes. Aspects of his life were subsumed into his work. His recurrent interest in the movement of air and water, and by extension his studies of the movement of unicellular marine creatures and the weather, were related to his life-long love of sailing.

At the outbreak of World war I, Taylor was employed in the design and operation of aeroplanes. This work led him to think about the limiting strengths of materials and greatly impacted on his future projects in later life. Upon his return from the War, Taylor became in 1923, the Royal Society Yarrow research professor, enabling him to cease teaching activities, which he had never truly enjoyed. During World War II he was a consultant and adviser to civil and military authorities on high explosives, researching the effects of blast-waves, and when the war was over he took up his research once again until he retired in 1952. Despite this he continued his research at Cambridge until 1972. Geoffrey Ingram Taylor was elected to membership of academic societies in many countries including the United States, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, India, Poland and USSR. He received honorary degrees from more than a dozen universities around the world and over twenty medals for his contributions to applied mathematics.


During World War I he worked with A.A. Griffiths on fluid mechanics. Between the wars he collaborated with C.F. Elam and W.S. Farren on crystals. In the 1930s he worked with J.W. MacColl on the aerodynamics at supersonic speeds, and with H. Quinney on metallurgy. During World War II his work on explosives was assisted by R.M Davies and H. Jones.

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

Scientific Papers of Sir Geoffrey Ingram Taylor, edited by GK Batchelor, vol 1, Mechanics of Solids, (1958)

Scientific Papers of Sir Geoffrey Ingram Taylor, edited by GK Batchelor, vol 2, Meteorology, Oceanography and Turbulent Flow, (1960)

Scientific Papers of Sir Geoffrey Ingram Taylor, edited by GK Batchelor, vol 3, Aerodynamics and the Mechanics of Projectiles and Explosions, (1963)

Scientific Papers of Sir Geoffrey Ingram Taylor, edited by GK Batchelor, vol 4, Mechanics of Fluids; Miscellaneous Papers, (1971)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1919: Elected Fellow, Royal Society

1933: Awarded Royal Medal, Royal Society

1938: Elected Fellow, Royal Society of Edinburgh

1944: Awarded Copley Medal, Royal Society

1944: Awarded Knighthood

1945: Elected Member, U.S. National Academy of Sciences

1947: Awarded American Medal for Merit

1951: Elected Fellow, Accademia dei Lincei, Rome

1952: Elected Member, Indian Academy of Sciences

1953: Awarded Honorary degree, University of Edinburgh

1954: Awarded Gold Medal, Royal Aeronautical Society

1954: Awarded Exner Medal, Oesterreichischer Gewerbeverein

1956: Awarded De Morgan Medal, London Maths Society

1958: Awarded International Panetti Prize and Medal, Accademia delle Scienze di Torino

1958: Awarded Dutch Medal, Akkademia van Wetenschafen

1959: Awarded Kelvin Gold Medal, Institution of Civil Engineers

1962: Awarded Faraday Award

1962: Awarded Franklin Medal, Franklin Institute, United States

1964: Awarded Platinum Medal, Institute of Metals

1965: Awarded James Watt International Gold Medal

1966: Elected Member, Academy of Sciences, U.S.S.R

1969: Awarded Order of Merit


List of sources for the biographical information:

Batchelor, G.KThe Life and Legacy of G.I. Taylor, (portraits)., ( Great Britain, Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Batchelor, G.KBiographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, vol. 33, ( London, 1987)

Pippard, Sir, Brian D'Obituary', Physics Today, ( September 1975)