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Community Profile: Andrew Taylor

Name: Andrew Taylor

Current position: Faculty

Affiliation: DESY

Field of research: Theoretical Astroparticle Physics


What is your career trajectory to date?

I did my undergraduate and PhD at the University of Oxford. After that I went to do Postdocs at the MPIK in Heidelberg and the University of Geneva. Following this, I got a Schrödinger fellowship for 5 years at DIAS in Dublin.

What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?

Simply put- how nature seems to accidentally build such efficient particle accelerators. The phenomena of particle acceleration in astrophysical objects now seems somewhat ubiquitous. This in itself was unexpected. However, the underlying question as to why the process appears to operate so effectively seems deep, and demands a better understanding of these astrophysical systems whose underlying physics is described by magneto-hydrodynamics.

What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?

I really enjoy having my daily thoughts focused on simple underlying questions which engage me. This freedom to ponder coherently on questions for relatively long time stretches of time is a real luxury. What I dislike is the endless noise of modern life, which appears hell bent on distracting my attention.

Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful?

I believe that I am rather good at estimating the magnitudes of physical quantities quickly in order to get a feel for the relevant physics at play in a physical system. I have attempted to nurture this skill since my PhD days, since I finished my undergraduate studies frustrated that I didn't have much physical intuition for describing physical systems.

In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about?

In 2018 and 2019, through my involvements in the HESS gamma-ray detector, I became very excited by our detection of very high energy gamma-rays (exceeding 1 TeV in photon energy) from the afterglow of two gamma-ray bursts. What was surprising about these detections was that they were achieved a longer time after the initial prompt emission from the gamma-ray burst. During these late times, the gamma-ray flux at very high energies was expected to be exceedingly low, so their relative brightness and the hardness of their spectral emission, both came as a great surprise. Indeed, it seems likely to me that we still do not understand aspects about the nature of this emission, even now several years after their detection.

What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?

I am rather weak at learning foreign languages. In the coming year I would like to improve my understanding and ability to utilise German grammer.

What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?

It appears to me that we are presently enjoying a growth in rapid observational results challenging our understanding of particle acceleration at fast (mildly relativistic) shocks. I believe that these observational advances offer new insights into the origins of the highest energy cosmic rays that we detect arriving to Earth. It is this observational input, and the theoretical insights provided, which excite me and keep optimistic that the origins of these particles may soon be found.

What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now?

I see an inertia of ideas in some areas of high energy astrophysics which appears to me unhealthy. For some time in my field, theoretical ideas have been put forward which were not put to rigorous testing by observation. Only now in this recent age of observational probes of these ideas can we start to separate theoretical speculation from theoretical success.

What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe?

I think that a sense of European-wide identity in theoretical high energy astrophysics has long been needed. Given the global challenges being faced, having a strong community on our doorstep to interact with and benefit from it particularly important. I see the role of EuCAPT being to nurture and develop this European-wide community.

What’s your favorite food?

This is too time-dependent to allow a meaningful answer.

Have you lived in a different European country than you do now? If so, would you like to tell us something about it, e.g. a fond memory or something you found surprising?

Having had both my children born in different European countries was interesting and enlightening.

How do you like to relax after a hard day of work?

I like to go running in the evening to clear my head.

What question would you have liked us to ask you, and what would you have responded?

It would have been nice to have been asked which scientists inspire you in your daily research. If asked, I would have indicated that the biographies I've read on Michael Faraday and Enrico Fermi have both strongly influenced the type of scientist that I continue to try to myself develop into.

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