NIST physicist advancing molecular medical imaging

Jacob Taylor, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is a finalist for a 2012 Service to America Medal.

The work of Jacob Taylor, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, could improve medical imaging so that details are seen down to the cellular and molecular levels.

Taylor’s accomplishments have made him a finalist for a 2012 Service to America Medal — also known as the Sammies — in the Call to Service category.

Federal News Radio asked the Sammies finalists to tell us a bit about themselves.

What three words best describe your leadership philosophy?

Failure precedes success.

What’s the best piece of advice (or words of wisdom) you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?

Focus on deep goals and shallow tasks; the first I learned from my graduate advisor, the second from a good friend of mine in graduate school. Also: there is no substitute for showing up — it is the only way to convert hard work into luck. This is my wife’s lesson.

Who is your biggest role model and why?

There is a physicist in my field, Peter Zoller, who has consistently shown an ability to both manage tremendous scientific challenges and large research efforts, while never taking hypothesis for fact. This set of traits is extremely challenging for us, as humans, to consistently execute upon, and I hope that I can be as successful as they have been in these tasks and roles. After all, the balance between creativity and pragmatism provides the scientific path forward — these researchers demonstrate every day how to keep that balance.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome (personally or professionally) and how did you overcome it?

Switching fields from astrophysics to quantum information science forced me to learn a whole new set of ideas, people and parameters. There was a period in the beginning where I regretted leaving behind a group of people I enjoyed working with to examine theories that are, in many respects, more esoteric. However, with effort and time, the new ideas, thoughts, and approaches became natural to me. In essence, it was a matter of practice — putting in years of focused time to learn not just the details, but the process of working in this new field.

What’s the last thing you read and what’s next on your reading list?

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (last thing).

Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman (current reading).

Meet the rest of the 2012 Sammies finalists.

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