Michael S. Turner
2011 APS Vice President
Michael S. Turner is the Rauner Distinguished Service Professor and Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at The University of Chicago where he has been a faculty member since 1980. He was born in Los Angeles, CA, received his BS in physics from Caltech, his M.S. and PhD degrees from Stanford University, and an honorary D.Sc. from Michigan State University.
Trained in general relativity and particle physics, Turner came to Chicago in 1978 as an Enrico Fermi Fellow. Working with David Schramm he began to explore the connections between particle physics and astrophysics & cosmology, and helped pioneer the interdisciplinary field of particle astrophysics and cosmology. In 1983, he and Edward W. (Rocky) Kolb created the Theoretical Astrophysics group at Fermilab. They also wrote the influential monograph, The Early Universe, and mentored many of the researchers in particle cosmology. This year they shared the AAS/AIP Heineman Prize for their role in establishing the field of particle astrophysics and cosmology. The cosmic frontier is now one of the three strategic directions in particle physics and the theoretical astrophysics group at Fermilab has grown to become the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics.
Turner's many research contributions include the calculation of density perturbations from quantum fluctuations in the inflationary Universe (with Bardeen and Steinhardt), which led to the cold dark matter scenario of structure formation; the prediction of the accelerated expansion of the Universe (with Krauss); the introduction of the equation-of-state parameter to describe dark energy and to get at its properties; the use of big-bang nucleosynthesis to precisely determine the baryon density and constrain the properties of elementary particles; and the astrophysics and cosmology of axions.
Turner's research has been recognized with the APS's Lilienfeld Prize, and the American Astronomical Society's Warner Prize; he is a Fellow of the APS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy for Arts and Sciences and a winner of the Klopsted Prize of the American Association for Physics Teachers. Turner was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1997 and is the past Chair of its Physics Section.
Beyond his university activities, from 2003 to 2006 Turner led the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the National Science Foundation where he oversaw a billion-dollar budget, and from 2006 to 2008 he was Chief Scientist of the Argonne National Laboratory.
In addition to serving on many NSF, DOE and NASA Advisory Committees, Turner has participated in more than 10 NRC studies, and he chaired the Quarks to the Cosmos study, which called attention to the field of particle astrophysics and set its priorities. Turner is known as a strong and articulate spokesperson for science in general and basic research in particular. Currently, Turner is the Chairman of the Board of the Aspen Center for Physics, a member of the NRC's Board on Physics and Astronomy and of the Governing Board of the NAS, and a Director of the Fermi Research Alliance, which manages Fermilab for the Department of Energy.
Turner has long been active in the APS, having served on the APS Council and Executive Committee and on the CSWP and PPC. He has also chaired the Publications Committee, Nominations Committee, and is the past chair of the Division of Astrophysics. He was co-chair of this year's April Meeting in Washington, DC and will be the chair of next year's April Meeting in Anaheim, CA.
When I joined the APS some 30 years ago, physics was the undisputed king of the sciences, the U.S. dominated physics and opportunities for a young physicist were breathtaking. Scientifically, I believe it is just as exciting to be a young physicist today: there are new opportunities for discovery and more surprises ahead; physicists are needed to create the innovative instrumentation that advances all of the sciences and the call for physics to address mankind's most pressing problems is even more urgent (especially energy and climate).
Some things have changed: physics is now more international (as is the APS), more collaborative, more interdisciplinary, more expensive, more digital, and other fields – particularly the biological sciences – are competing with us for the limelight. One thing hasn't changed: the APS is still the premier physics organization, bringing physics and physicists together and providing a powerful voice for our field and for science.
Physics and the APS face challenges today. The APS journals – our crown jewel and financial engine – must find a robust and sustainable business plan in this Internet world where information is expected to be free and easily available (for better or worse we are in the same boat as the rest of the publishing world).
While significant gains have been made in bringing women into our field, much work remains before physics is gender blind; even less progress has been made with under-represented minorities. We will have to continue to work hard to make the face of physics more like the face of the world today, as physics is competing with business, finance and other sciences – for the best and the brightest. But the effort will be worth it – addressing the hardest problems in physics has always benefited from the multitude of approaches that a diverse group brings. A closely related challenge is that of physics (and science) education and public understanding of physics (and science), and the APS must continue its strong leadership here as well.
The Obama Administration (and Congress) have made significant strides in "restoring science to its rightful place"; and while a proper urgency has been put on using the best science to solve our Nation's most pressing problems, less attention has been paid to the basic research which in the long run creates the game changers (like electricity and magnetism and quantum mechanics). The APS can be a strong and respected voice for the importance of basic research to the long-term health of the country and the world, and I promise that my first priority if elected will be making sure that it does so.
The challenges ahead are not easily met, nor do I have simple answers. I am confident that as part of the APS leadership and with the help of the extraordinary membership of our Society here and around the world we will make significant progress. Working together we will keep physics the vibrant and exciting field that attracted all of us to it and ensure that physics continues to capture the imagination of young scientists for years to come.