Festschrift: Turner in Chicago

Since Barcelona, I’ve also travelled to Chicago to attend a meeting in honor of the 60th birthday of Michael Turner, Professor at the University of Chicago, and a former head of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate of the US National Science Foundation. Mike was one of my Ph.D. Supervisors, along with Josh Frieman, and it was a pleasure to return to Chicago to see so many old friends, teachers and mentors, many of whom I hadn’t seen — at least in one place together — since I left Chicago in 1993.

There is a longstanding academic tradition of such birthday symposia, often called a festschrift (although technically the term refers to a volume of essays in honor of an academic; the ubiquity of the web has made those less common). We heard (amusing, of course) reminiscences from Josh Frieman (who was himself Mike’s first Ph.D. student), and Mike’s longtime Chicago colleague Rocky Kolb, a thank-you from writer Dennis Overbye, as well as more scientifically-oriented talks from Marc Kamionkowski (another former Turner student), Gary Steigman, Alan Guth, Wendy Freedman, Joe Silk and Roger Blandford. The evening was capped off by tapas in downtown Chicago and an after-dinner encomium of sorts from Robert Kirshner. (Along the way, their were plenty of embarrassing stories and pictures, but you’ll have to search for the latter — and wade through the several other famous Mike Turners out there…)

This incredibly impressive roster is testament to Mike’s influence throughout astrophysics and cosmology, from Guth’s discussion of the early Universe and the Multiverse to Freedman’s discussion of present-day observations of the expansion of the Universe. Mike was among the first to realize that Guth’s idea of inflation not only created a flat, homogeneous universe, but also, through the rapid expansion of quantum-mechanical fluctuations, could seed the formation of structure observed in the present-day Universe, also observed at an earlier time in the Cosmic Microwave Background. At Chicago, he championed the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the largest probe of the large-scale distribution of galaxies to date. Mike is also famous for inventing the term “Dark Energy” referring to whatever is causing the observed acceleration of the expansion rate of the Universe. And for years, he was known for producing the most colorful transparencies in cosmology (a skill largely lost now that we’re all using PowerPoint and such):

MST Slide

And of course, he he has supported dozens of students and postdocs many of whom have gone on to make their own contributions (and send our own students out into the cosmological field).

One response to “Festschrift: Turner in Chicago”

  1. Ted Bunn avatar

    The snapshot of a Turner transparency reminds me of a conference I was at once once where Mike Turner had, amazingly enough, made the rookie mistake of putting the transparencies for his talk in his checked luggage. Of course the luggage went astray. I think he was probably up all night reproducing them.