Stephen Hawking, that is. The black hole guy has contributed a laudatory blurb to the news that Neil Turok, Chair of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University, is the new Executive Director of Perimeter Institute in Waterloo.
“The combination of Neil and PI is brilliant and holds great promise for the future,” says Hawking in the news release that went out today after Mike Lazaridis announced Turok’s appointment in the rather extraordinary building Lazaridis built with Blackberry money. (Here’s my article about Perimeter and CIGI, the foreign-policy think tank Lazaridis’s business partner Jim Balsillie built next door.)
You would expect a Cambridge colleague of Hawking’s to be formidable and a bit hard to get your mind around. I’m just learning about Turok, and by all accounts he is indeed formidable. But he has other preoccupations that make him a bit more accessible than you might think. For one thing, he has founded a school to promote math and science education in Africa. Here he talks about that, and about his search for something before the Big Bang (there’s also an article on that here) (and another one here). (I like how the first slide in his PowerPoint presentation is labelled “all known physics.” The writer’s block before he came up with the second slide must have been a mother.) If you have a few free minutes today and you are lucky enough to watch all of his presentation, including the series of slides where he maps the world according to prevalence of HIV/AIDS, physicians as a share of the population, and so on, I think you’ll find it astounding.
Yikes. I see that Hawking has also called Turok’s book “challenging,” which, if you tried to read Hawking’s book, means it probably doesn’t come with crayons.
I felt privileged to get to know Turok’s predecessor, Howard Burton, who built Perimeter up from nothing and turned it into the kind of place a guy like Turok could want to be associated with. I am simply the wrong guy to know whether Turok is the right choice to take Perimeter higher, but he seems a fascinating man.
Why does it matter? For the long answer, just start with my article linked above and then browse around the Perimeter website. For today, I suppose the short answer is that if some people around here don’t start lifting their eyes a little higher than the social connections of a cabinet minister’s ex-girlfriend, then this country is dead in the water. I was very happy to (vicariously and at distance) make Dr. Turok’s acquaintance today, and I hope you will be too.