Professor Neil Turok

Perimeter Institute

For his important scientific contributions and for the impact his humanistic vision and innovative actions as a scientist are having on international physics and on the African continent.

Professor Neil Turok works in a number of areas of mathematical 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 confirmed by precision measurements by the WMAP spacecraft. A test for the presence of a cosmological constant was also developed, and confirmed.

Turok and collaborators developed the theory of open inflation. With Stephen Hawking, he developed the Hawking-Turok instanton solutions, which can describe the birth of an inflationary universe. With Paul Steinhardt at Princeton, Turok has developed a cyclic model for the universe, which explains the big bang as a collision between two brane-worlds in M theory.

In 2003, Turok founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Cape Town, South Africa. It has since expanded to a network of six centres, to be eventually extended to 15 within the Next Einstein Initiative (NEI). AIMS-NEI has become Africa’s most renowned institution for postgraduate training in mathematical sciences.

Turok has also produced a series of books aimed at the general public, covering cosmology and quantum physics. He is noted for his ability to present complex matters in simple and transparent terms, both in writing and in his public presentations on what fundamental physics and mathematical sciences have to offer as a form of cultural heritage and as a force for spurring societal development.

Born in 1958 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Turok graduated from Churchill College, Cambridge, before gaining his doctorate from Imperial College London. He then moved to the US for a postdoctoral position at Santa Barbara, following which he was an associate scientist at Fermilab, Chicago, was appointed professor of physics at Princeton University in 1994, and then held the Chair of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge from 1997. He was appointed to his current position as director of the Perimeter Institute in 2008. He also holds the Niels Bohr Chair at the Perimeter Institute.

In 1992 Turok was awarded the IOP’s Maxwell Medal for his contributions to theoretical physics. The American Institute of Physics awarded him the John Torrence Tate Medal for International Leadership in Physics for 2016.