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John Torrence Tate Award winner Neil Turok looking for African Einstein

  • Neil
South African-born Neil Turok is the recipient of the 2016 John Torrence Tate Award for International Leadership in Physics from the American Institute of Physics. The award will be presented to him in November in Silicon Valley, California.
by MARGOT COHEN | Mar 16, 2016

Speaking to the Jewish Report telephonically from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada where he holds the position of Director and Niels Bohr Chairman, Turok says he is obviously delighted at the recognition. “It came as something of a surprise,” he remarks.

Last week he was in Dakar, Senegal. Turok’s abiding interest is to promote and encourage science and maths education in Africa. The purpose of the global gathering in Dakar was to lend support to the call to meet the challenge of producing the next African Einstein, be it a man or a woman. It was the largest ever scientific meeting in Africa, with over 700 participants.

Says Turok: “No-one can deny the contribution by Africans in the fields of  music, art, literature or sport, so why not look for African science superstars? Africans have a huge interest in education. Even the poorest among them make huge sacrifices to educate their children. By 2050, 40 per cent of the world’s youth will be African. We must create opportunities for them.”

Turok likens the exclusion of black people from science to the denial of technical and scientific training to Jews in 19th century, when Jews were consigned to being pedlars and money lenders.

A self-confessed “Afro-optimist”, Turok founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Muizenberg, Cape Town, in 2003. It has since expanded to a network of five centres in South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, and Tanzania and has become Africa’s most renowned institute for postgraduate training in maths, with nearly1 000 alumni.

For his scientific discoveries and for developing AIMS, Turok was awarded the TED Prize in 2008. He has also been recognised with an award from the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (WSIE).

His research interests are related to the Big Bang. He is involved in testing fundamental theories of the cosmos. His predictions include a key signature of dark energy involving correlations between the temperature of the cosmic background radiation and the distribution of galaxies. He also developed the “open inflation” scenario with Stephen Hawking among others.

Born in Johannesburg to political activists Ben and Mary Turok, Turok and his family went into exile in Kenya and Tanzania and then on to London. He was educated at Cambridge University and received his doctorate in theoretical physics from Imperial College.

He comes to South Africa, where his parents and some siblings reside, around three times a year. “Science is a unifying force for humanity that transcends culture, language and race and the other artificial boundaries that separate us. We all can benefit from this pursuit of shared understanding,” he avers.

1 Comment

  1. 1 David Krut 17 Mar
    Someone we can all be so proud of

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