Neil Turok

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Neil Turok
Neil Turok AIMS.jpg
Neil Turok in 2008
Born Neil Geoffrey Turok
(1958-11-16) November 16, 1958 (age 58)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Residence Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Alma mater Churchill College, Cambridge
Imperial College London
Known for Hawking–Turok instanton solutions
African Institute for Mathematical Sciences
Awards Maxwell Medal and Prize (1992)
Scientific career
Institutions University of Cambridge
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Thesis Strings and solitons in gauge theories[1] (1983)
Doctoral advisor David Olive

Neil Geoffrey Turok (born 16 November 1958[2]) is a South African physicist, and the Director of Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.[3] His work has been in the area of mathematical physics and early universe physics, including the cosmological constant and a cyclic model for the universe.

Early life and career[edit]

Neil Turok circa 1990

Turok was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to Mary (Butcher) and Latvian-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 Professor David Olive, one of the inventors of the superstring theory. After a postdoctoral post at Santa Barbara, he was an associate scientist at Fermilab, Chicago. 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.[3]

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.[4]

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.

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.[5] In 2012, Turok's Massey Lectures were published as The Universe Within: from quantum to cosmos.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8] He also received a "Most Innovative People Award," for Social Innovation, at the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (WSIE) in 2008.[9]

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[10] and an award from the South African Mathematical Society.[11] In 2011 Turok received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Ottawa.[12]

On November 3, 2011, Turok was selected to deliver the Massey Lectures for the 2012 season.[13] This involves five separate lectures to be delivered in various locations across Canada in October 2012, aired on CBC's Ideas shortly thereafter.[14]

Turok received an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2012.[15]

Turok was awarded the honorary degrees of Doctor of Science, honoris causa from Saint Mary's University (May 16, 2014),[16] the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (April 9, 2014)[17] and Stellenbosch University (March 26, 2015).[11]

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. ^ Turok, Ben (2003). Nothing But the Truth: Behind the ANC's Struggle Politics. Jonathan Ball Publishers. p. 42. ISBN 1868421767. 
  3. ^ a b "Perimeter Institute Executive Director Biography". 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  4. ^ "Dark Energy Almost 100 Percent Proven". 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 
  5. ^ Steinhardt, Paul J.; Turok, Neil (2008). Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang. Phoenix. ISBN 978-0-7538-2442-9. 
  6. ^ "House of Anansi: The Universe Within". Retrieved 30 May 2012. 
  7. ^ Turok, Neil (2011). "Africa AIMS high". Nature. 474 (7353): 567–569. ISSN 0028-0836. doi:10.1038/474567a. 
  8. ^ "TED Blog: Announcing 2008 TED Prize Winners". 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  9. ^ "World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship". 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 
  10. ^ WISE Awards 2010
  11. ^ a b SAMS Award for Profs Hahne and Turok at the Wayback Machine (archived January 29, 2011)
  12. ^ "190th University of Ottawa Convocation: Exceptional students and outstanding personalities honoured". 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  13. ^ "The 2012 CBC Massey Lectures, "The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos". 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 
  14. ^ "You don't understand quantum theory? Neil Turok will help you". 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 
  15. ^ "Higgs Boson Scientist Awarded Heriot-Watt honorary degree". Heriot-Watt University. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  16. ^ "Five Exemplary Leaders to Receive Honorary Degrees from Saint Mary’s University". 5 May 2014. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  17. ^ Acclaimed physicist to receive honorary doctorate from NMMU at the Wayback Machine (archived September 9, 2015)

External links[edit]