(Part 2 here. Hover over images for attribution.) The universe started billions of years ago, and it has billions to go. But right now, people need opportunity to satisfy their curiosity, which Turok made graphically clear in his 2008 TED Prize Wish Speech. Sure, growing up in Africa in the Sixties whetted his curiosity, but Turok had to go to Britain to quench that curiosity.
In the Sixties there was so much hope for Africa, but ‘things got worse. Africa was gripped by poverty, disease, and war. This is graphically shown by the Worldmapper website’, where countries are sized in proportion to the number of people or things concerned. I love maps. Hawksley Workman’s song Safe And Sound has the line, ‘You read the map like you were reading poetry.’ The song is sweet. Sometimes, though, the poetry is bitter. It can be very bitter in Africa. But Turok had an idea…. (Quotes are from Worldmapper too.)
‘The land area of each territory is shown here. The total land area of these 200 territories is 13,056 million hectares. Divided up equally that would be 2.1 hectares for each person. A hectare is 100 metres by 100 metres. However, population [below] is not evenly spread: Australia’s land area is 21 times bigger than Japan’s, but Japan’s population is more than six times bigger than Australia’s.’
‘In 1960 most of the world’s wealth was recorded as being produced in North America and Western Europe. Wealth distribution maintained a similar pattern to that in 1900, except that the proportion of world wealth found in Asian territories generally decreased, whilst it tended to increase in South American territories.’
‘This wealth map … indicates international purchasing power – what someone’s money would be worth if they wanted to spend it in another territory. For some their money will gain value when they move – others’ money will lose value. This facilitates the movement of some people, whilst severely limiting that of others.’
‘Population is very weakly related to land area. However, Sudan which is geographically the largest country in Africa, has a smaller population than Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Tanzania.’ Africa sorta looks OK in this map, but…
‘Territories are sized in proportion to the absolute number of people who died from most preventable [deaths] (communicable infections, maternal, perinatal and nutritional conditions) in one year.’
‘AIDS is spread sexually, in semen and other genital secretions, and the person’s blood is also infectious. People are infectious any time after the initial infection with HIV, long before AIDS occurs, which takes on average 10 years.’
‘Injuries and deaths directly due to war in combatants and non-combatants are counted here. This includes deaths of children and adults from landmines.’
‘In 2004 … the largest number were in China, which is the largest territory on the map. If physicians were distributed according to population, there would be 124 physicians to every 100,000 people. The most concentrated 50% of physicians live in territories with less than a fifth of the world population. The worst off fifth are served by only 2% of the world’s physicians.’
‘Most territories are visible on this map. Those territories that have such low numbers of people going into tertiary education that they are hardly distinguishable are mainly in Central Africa.’
Most shocking to Turok was the dearth of scientific research coming from Africa. ‘Scientific papers cover physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, clinical medicine, biomedical research, engineering, technology, and earth and space sciences…. There is more scientific research, or publication of results, in richer territories. This locational bias is such that roughly three times more scientific papers per person living there are published in Western Europe, North America, and Japan, than in any other region.’
There is a whole continent of people with very little opportunity who cannot go abroad. Turok’s experience as a young teacher there convinced him that ‘there are just tons of bright kids in Africa.’ In 2001 he learned that ‘there is a desperate shortage of skills, especially mathematical skills.’
So, he helped start AIMS (the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences) in Cape Town (pictured above, right; to the left, an AIMS student, a future Einstein?). His 2008 TED Wish–‘our TED Wish’–had two parts: a dream and a plan. He (and many others) dreamed that the next Einstein would be African and they planned to start other AIMS centres throughout Africa. To that end, they created the AIMS Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI) ‘a proposal seeking to create 15 AIMS Centres across Africa over the coming decade. AIMS-NEI was launched at AIMS in May 2008 and is also strongly supported by the Global Outreach programme of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.’ AIMS-NEI announced in July 2013 that it ‘is officially launching its fourth Centre For Excellence in the Mathematical Sciences in Cameroon’, joining those in Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa.