Jacob Taylor, a young physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has made pioneering scientific discoveries that in time could lead to significant advances in health care, communications, computing and technology.
As a fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute at NIST since 2009, the 34-year-old Taylor has conceived a number of original theories, including a way to vastly improve magnetic resonance imaging to enable probing down to the cellular and molecular levels. This approach holds the promise of providing detailed information that could lead to far better diagnoses, more targeted medical treatments for patients and rapid turnaround for drug discovery.
He is also responsible for a major breakthrough that could eventually permit the routing of greater quantities of information over the Internet than now possible, while using reduced levels of energy. In addition, Taylor has proposed a novel theory that could help advance the elusive drive toward quantum computing, permitting exponentially faster calculations than conceivable on conventional computers.
Mihkail Lukin, a Harvard University physics professor, said scientists around the world are examining how to harness quantum properties of matter to gather information with higher resolution and sensitivity and to process greater quantities of information faster and more securely.
“Jake has made fundamental contributions in all three of these areas,” said Lukin. “He is one of the most creative young scientists I have ever seen.”
William Phillips, a NIST fellow and a Nobel Prize winner in physics, said Taylor’s ideas are at “the cutting-edge of theoretical physics.”
Phillips said Taylor also “thinks about reality and the practical application of his complex work,” and is engaged in a wide array of experiments that could have “great technological importance” for electronics and communications systems used by consumers and industry.
One of Taylor’s major accomplishments has been the use for the first time of diamond-tipped sensors that can perform magnetic resonance tests on individual cells or on single molecules, a sort of MRI scanner at the microscopic scale.
No one had previously thought diamond crystals could be used for this purpose and in the way devised by Taylor. The physicist now has patents pending on the process and is conducting experiments that have shown success in the laboratory. The work raises the possibility that physicians one day will be able to use the technology to detect diseases at a far earlier stage, and that drug companies may be able to devise more effective medications because of the precise information that will flow from the advanced imaging technology.
Without Taylor’s “pioneering” contributions, said Lukin, “this field of experimentation would not exist.”
Taylor also is experimenting with another magnetic imaging process that works with increased speed and sensitivity, and could allow patients with pacemakers or individuals with shrapnel embedded in their bodies to obtain scans that now might be too risky.
Another Taylor innovation centers on the development of technology for the next generation of Internet routers that rely on light as opposed to electrons to communicate information. The information carried by the router would be immune to the environmental noise and defects encountered with currently available technology, representing an advance over today’s telecommunication applications by increasing bandwidth and reliability, and by reducing energy usage and costs. A patent is pending on this process and experiments are underway.
“It is a thrill to do something that no one has dreamed up or done before,” said Taylor. “It’s what gets me up in the morning—the feeling I can really change the world, at least in small steps.”
This medalist was the recipient of the Call to Service Medal, which was updated to the Emerging Leaders Medal in 2020.