Neil Turok

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Neil Turok

Neil Turok AIMS.jpg
Turok in 2008
Neil Geoffrey Turok

(1958-11-16) November 16, 1958 (age 62)
Alma materChurchill College, Cambridge
Imperial College London
University of California, Santa Barbara
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Known forHawking–Turok instanton solutions
African Institute for Mathematical Sciences
AwardsMaxwell Medal and Prize (1992)
Scientific career
InstitutionsPrinceton University
University of Cambridge
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
University of Edinburgh
ThesisStrings and Solitons in Gauge Theories[1] (1983)
Doctoral advisorDavid Olive

Neil Geoffrey Turok OC (born 16 November 1958) is a South African physicist. He is a director emeritus of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics since 2019.[2] He specializes in mathematical physics and early-universe physics, including the cosmological constant and a cyclic model for the universe.

Early life and career[edit]

Turok circa 1990

Turok was born on 16 November 1958[3] in Johannesburg, South Africa, to Mary (Butcher) and Byelorussian-born Ben Turok, who were activists in the anti-apartheid movement and the African National Congress. After graduating from Churchill College, Cambridge, Turok gained his doctorate from Imperial College, London, under the supervision of David Olive, one of the inventors of superstring theory. After a postdoctoral post at Santa Barbara, he was an associate scientist at Fermilab, Illinois. In 1992 he was awarded the Maxwell medal of the Institute of Physics for his contributions to theoretical physics. In 1994 he was appointed Professor of Physics at Princeton University, then held the Chair of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge starting in 1997. He was appointed Director of the Perimeter Institute in 2008.[2] In 2020, Turok was appointed as the Inaugural Higgs Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Edinburgh.[4]

Research and other contributions[edit]

Turok has worked in a number of areas of mathematical physics and early universe physics, focusing on observational tests of fundamental physics in cosmology. In the early 1990s, his group showed how the polarisation and temperature anisotropies of the cosmic background radiation would be correlated, a prediction which has been confirmed in detail by recent precision measurements by the WMAP spacecraft. They also developed a key test for the presence of a cosmological constant, also recently confirmed.[5]

Turok and collaborators developed the theory of open inflation. With Stephen Hawking, he later developed the so-called Hawking-Turok instanton solutions which, according to the no-boundary proposal of Hawking and James Hartle, can describe the birth of an inflationary universe.

Together with Justin Khoury, Burt Ovrut and Paul Steinhardt, Turok introduced the notion of the Ekpyrotic Universe, "... a cosmological model in which the hot big bang universe is produced by the collision of a brane in the bulk space with a bounding orbifold plane, beginning from an otherwise cold, vacuous, static universe".[6] Most recently, with Paul Steinhardt at Princeton, Turok has been developing a cyclic model for the universe, in which the big bang is explained as a collision between two "brane-worlds" in M theory. The predictions of this model are in agreement with current cosmological data, but there are interesting differences with the predictions of cosmological inflation which will be probed by future experiments (probably by the Planck space observatory). In 2006, Steinhardt and Turok showed how the cyclic model could naturally incorporate a mechanism for relaxing the cosmological constant to very small values, consistent with current observations. In 2007, Steinhardt and Turok co-authored the popular science book Endless Universe.[7] In 2012, Turok's Massey Lectures were published as The Universe Within: from Quantum to Cosmos.[8]

In 2003, Turok founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Muizenberg, a postgraduate educational centre supporting the development of mathematics and science across the African continent.[9]

Awards and honours[edit]

He was awarded the 2008 TED Prize for his work in mathematical physics and in establishing the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Muizenberg.[10] He also received a "Most Innovative People Award," for Social Innovation, at the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (WSIE) in 2008.[11]

On May 9, 2008, Mike Lazaridis announced that Turok would become the new Executive Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics starting on October 1, 2008.

In 2010 Turok received a prize from the World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar[12] and an award from the South African Mathematical Society.[13] In 2011 Turok received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Ottawa.[14]

On November 3, 2011, Turok was selected to deliver the Massey Lectures for the 2012 season.[15] This involves five separate lectures to be delivered in various locations across Canada in October 2012, aired on CBC's Ideas shortly thereafter.[16]

Turok received an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2012.[17]

In 2014 Turok was the recipient of the Lane Anderson Award for his book The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos.

Turok was awarded the honorary degrees of Doctor of Science, honoris causa from UCLouvain (February 4, 2019), Saint Mary's University (May 16, 2014),[18] the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (April 9, 2014)[19] and Stellenbosch University (March 26, 2015).[13]

Turok was awarded the 2016 John Torrence Tate Award at the 2016 SPS Quadrennial Congress in San Francisco, notably the largest gathering of undergraduate physics students to date.


  1. ^ Neil Turok at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. ^ a b "Perimeter Institute Director Emeritus Biography". Retrieved 2020-11-06.
  3. ^ Turok, Ben (2003). Nothing But the Truth: Behind the ANC's Struggle Politics. Jonathan Ball Publishers. p. 42. ISBN 1868421767.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Dark Energy Almost 100 Percent Proven". 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-02.
  6. ^ Khoury, J.; Ovrut, B.; Steinhardt, P. J. (2001). "The Ekpyrotic Universe: Colliding Branes and the Origin of the Hot Big Bang". Phys. Rev. D. 64 (12): 123522. arXiv:hep-th/0103239. Bibcode:2001PhRvD..64l3522K. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.64.123522. S2CID 374628.
  7. ^ Steinhardt, Paul J.; Turok, Neil (2008). Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang. Phoenix. ISBN 978-0-7538-2442-9.
  8. ^ "House of Anansi: The Universe Within". Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  9. ^ Turok, Neil (2011). "Africa AIMS high". Nature. 474 (7353): 567–569. doi:10.1038/474567a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 21720344. S2CID 205065526.
  10. ^ "TED Blog: Announcing 2008 TED Prize Winners". 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-21.
  11. ^ "World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship". 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-14. Retrieved 2012-11-02.
  12. ^ "Learning World: Dancing into the Future". Retrieved 2017-11-14.
  13. ^ a b "SAMS Award for Profs Hahne and Turok". Archived from the original on January 29, 2011. Retrieved 2015-03-26.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  14. ^ "190th University of Ottawa Convocation: Exceptional students and outstanding personalities honoured". 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  15. ^ "The 2012 CBC Massey Lectures, "The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos". 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-02.
  16. ^ "You don't understand quantum theory? Neil Turok will help you". 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-02.
  17. ^ "Higgs Boson Scientist Awarded Heriot-Watt honorary degree". Heriot-Watt University. Retrieved 2016-03-29.
  18. ^ "Five Exemplary Leaders to Receive Honorary Degrees from Saint Mary's University". 5 May 2014. Archived from the original on 10 April 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  19. ^ "Acclaimed physicist to receive honorary doctorate from NMMU". Archived from the original on September 9, 2015. Retrieved 2015-10-25.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
Academic offices
Preceded by
Howard Burton
Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Succeeded by
Robert Myers

External links[edit]