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Nobel Laureate Joe Taylor, K1JT, Addresses Plenary Session at WRC-12, Receives ITU Gold Medal

02/06/2012

On Friday, February 3, delegates and attendees at the 2012 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-12) had the pleasure of listening to Joe Taylor, K1JT, share his vision of the future of radiocommunication. Taylor -- an ARRL Member -- won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1993 for the discovery of a binary pulsar, a discovery which has opened up new possibilities for the study of gravitation. After the speech, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary General Dr Hamadoun Touré, HB9EHT, presented Taylor with the ITU Gold Medal in recognition of Dr Taylor’s outstanding contribution to the research in the field of radiocommunication.

Dr Touré introduced Dr Taylor to the Plenary. In his introduction, he told the audience that Amateur Radio led to Taylor’s career as a radio astronomer, and ultimately to his winning the Nobel Prize: “I’m told that an early interest in Amateur Radio led Joe Taylor to an exciting career in radio astronomy, which then earned him the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics. I share his interest in Amateur Radio with passion, but will that lead me to a Nobel Prize? I’m working on it!”

Dr Taylor began his seven minute speech by thanking the WRC-12 delegates for the job they were doing at the Conference. “I understand that you have come to Geneva from more than 150 of the ITU’s Member States,” he said. “You are here to do an important job, an essential one, for nearly all of humanity in today’s world. You are charged to do your upmost to accommodate the wide variety of competing interests of all users of the radio frequency spectrum and its available orbits for Earth satellites. This is surely not an easy task. Most people give very little thought to the complicated issues that you face. Why should they, since for most of us, most of the time, the technologies that depend on these limited resources just seem to work. But I know, and each one of you knows, that much background work and many long negotiations are often necessary in order to make everything fit together and work in harmony.”

He noted new discoveries “that have fundamentally changed or expanded our understanding of nature’s laws, or might do so in the near future.” But, he said, these discoveries will not affect the ITU or future WRCs for “at least not for many decades to come. This is because our fundamental understanding of electromagnetism is already in a mature state. Maxwell’s equations, after all, have been thoroughly tested now for 150 years. And in principle, they tell us everything we need to know in order to exploit the wonders of telecommunications at the speed of light. Our understanding of these laws of nature, including what they tell us is possible and not possible, is not likely to change, even in the more distant future. But of course we can still develop new and improved ways of generating, controlling and detecting electromagnetic radiation, as well as clever new ways of effectively sharing the spectral resources that we have. Such advances as these will surely continue, and perhaps they will even increase. The fundamental science may be mature, but technology’s ability to exploit and build upon electromagnetic phenomena is still rapidly developing.

“It’s interesting to comment in passing on the fundamental differences between the bounded radio frequency spectrum and the balance, for example, on accessible fossil fuels. Limitations of the radio spectrum are a result of fundamental laws of nature. Every nation on Earth, and indeed every person on Earth, has access, in principle, to the same spectrum as everyone else. The amount of accessible oil, on the other hand, depends on the much more complicated way on how the Earth formed and evolved over time, and fossil fuels are not evenly distributed over the Earth and they are expendable. When it’s gone, there’s none left. The electromagnetic spectrum, on the other hand, will always be there, whether or not we humans are around here to enjoy using it. Moreover, the spectrum can be shared by many users simultaneously, and shared use can be especially effective if adequate planning is done in advance. That planning, of course, is an essential part of your assignments here.

“Future technologies will surely make even better uses of wireless communication than we do today. I foresee plenty of scope for contributions for new technologies. Information and communication technologies have much to offer for the betterment of the human condition everywhere, and perhaps especially so in the developing world. It is extremely important to continue seeking the best efficiencies in the use of the spectrum. I wish you every success in your task of creating wise and fair guidelines for regulators and policy makers who must allocate the limited resources in the very best interest of all mankind.”

You can view Dr Taylor’s speech on YouTube, courtesy of Andy Clegg, W4JE.



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