Neil Turok, a noted physicist at Cambridge who is working on a cyclic theory of the universe that postulates that the Big Bang was a result of two ‘brane-worlds’ colliding, won me over with his infectious smile and diffident manner.
He described his childhood growing up in Africa – his parents imprisoned for their opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa, growing up in Tanzania after their release. He described going back to Africa to teach and being astonished at some of the incredible mathematical instincts of kids who had very little education opportunity.
From these experiences arose his passion for providing educational opportunities in Africa, and the dream that the next Einstein would be from Africa. He founded the African Institute for Mathematics near Capetown in 2003, which has been graduating 50 students a year. They come from all over Africa, and it has been an oasis of understanding of different cultures as well as a place to learn mathematics. Turok has had no trouble in getting world-class lecturers to AIMS, and most of the students are heading on to PH.D. study. Now that the formula has proven effective, Turok’s TED wish is to expand AIMS to 4 other locations, while expanding the curriculum to other fields. I attended the lunch where people were invited to write down on cards what they might do to help fulfil his wish, and our table had lots of interesting ideas. I can't wait to hear about this wish unfolding.
By the way, for anybody who might be inspired by this blog to think of how they can help with any of the TED wishes, the web site www.tedprize.org lists all the wishes, progress on past wishes, and what efforts are still required. It makes for interesting reading.