English translation of narrator Flore Vasseur (Voice / Turok / 26minutes):
What if the next big scientific discovery came from a team based in Nairobi or Gomé? And what if the next Einstein was African? That is the bet of Neil Turok, one of the greatest living cosmologists. A South African raised to the drumbeat of the fight against apartheid, he knows Africa like no one: in the continent brilliant minds with unexploited potential are everywhere. Africa - its development should be theirs. That will change the world. Here's how.
At TED in 2008, Neil Turok was granted the TED prize. He announced his wish: to find the next Einstein in Africa.
Since then, on top of as developing AIMS, he is the director of the Perimeter Institute in Canada, one of the world's leading research centers for theoretical physics, where we met him.
AIMS receives more than 700 applications a year from the whole of Africa but only chooses 50 students. Among the selection criteria are excellence and gender - AIMS recruits at least 30% women. And the personal background.
David Aschmann teaches at Cape University. He was one of the first to believe and join Neil Turok in his bet and to witness its impact, the transformation at work.
AIMS has 528 alumni, of which a third are women, coming from 34 countries. Some 80% of the students have pursued their studies, and in 35% of cases abroad. Martial went to Cambridge and then Yale. He is working on the link between bilharziasis, malaria and HIV and the optimisation of prevention campaigns. Coming from Nigeria, Felix is at the University of British Colombia and Klebert is at the Berlin School of Mathematics. Prosper, from Rwanda, has joined the Institute of Nanotechnology at the Univeristy of Twente in the Netherlands.
Like Andri from Madagascar and Seth from Ghana, Nosiphiwo joined the ultimate research center, the Perimeter Institute in Canada for a PhD in quantum gravity. Yae, from Benin, has chosen to come back to Africa to teach at AIMS.
Physics, asymptotic theory, quantum theory: 27 Professors teach every year, for three weeks each. They come from the most prestigious universities in the world. And come back, finding there something really special.
But how much does it cost to invent the university of the future and make it really impactful there and now? 10,000 dollars per student per year. And the work of a lifetime.
Seeking financing, partners, students, teachers...Neil Turok has been developing AIMS for the past 12 years while pursuing his research and discoveries on the Big Bang. He has been living on two continents, in two space-times, between theoretical research and the day to day of launching school. But why does one of the greatest living cosmologists want to find the next Einstein in Africa? And in the name of what?
A South African, Neil Turok was born during Apartheid. His parents, Ben and Mary were both involved in Nelson Mandela work. As a child, Neil lived the fight for human rights from the inside.
Through his parents, Neil was exposed to Mandela's ideas about racial equality, democracy, what makes for human dignity.
And for Mandela, education was the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.
Ben and Mary impacted the history of their country. In 1955, Ben organized the Congress of the People and wrote the economic section of the Freedom Charter. Like Mandela, he was convicted of treason and imprisoned by the white regime. After three years he escaped and the family fled to Tanzania where Neil discovered science.
Neil felt for cosmos and mathematics. These could explain the world, and perhaps help him understand what was happening to his family and to men around him.
This child of exile and enforced separation discovers the fundamental questions: What connects us all? What is it that pushes us forward?
Neil Turok is the product of this history of restlessness, talents and connections. The family found refuge in England. As an adult, Neil accumulated scientific distinctions. Princeton and Cambridge fought over him. Meanwhile, in South Africa the Apartheid regime collapsed, Mandela was freed. Neil's parents returned to Cape Town and were both elected members of parliament. He took a sabbatical to come back also.
AIMS is the outcome of a family story. With it, Neil Turok is pursuing his parents' battle, making it is own, with his weapons and for his time.
Winning the TED prize in 2008 provided support and approval for an idea and a project that were struggling at the time. But how are they doing now? What are the systemic effects of AIMS? What does it tell us about our relationship to the world and to progress? And what has Neil Turok learnt?
AIMS is spreading: five centers have opened since 2003 (in Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon and Tanzania). In all, AIMS AFRICA has 731 alumni, thus enhancing the ripple effect of Neil’s idea. The goal is to have 15 AIMS centers by 2020.
The search for the next Einstein is a challenge may be a gamble. But the purpose is political: through it, Neil Turok is aiming for the scientific transformation of a continent.
Neil Turok wants to change the way we look at Africa. He wants us to consider it for what it is: not a land of problems, not even of opportunities. But a hotbed for solutions, the cradle of mankind and of its creativity. He also wants to change the way we look at science, to reveal its profound significance, its universality.
Neil Turok has a vision of science at the service of man, his emancipation, his dignity. Searching for the next Einstein, now and there, is to have a fundamental belief in Africa, but, above all, in humanity.
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