Jack Turner was born December 4, 1942, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and received his precollege education there and later in Durham, North Carolina. Undergraduate study at Duke University led to a B. S. Degree in Physics in 1964, with minors in Chemistry, Mathematics, and Russian. His graduate work, in nonequilibrium statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, was carried out in the Chemistry Department at Indiana University, Bloomington, under the direction of R. G. Mortimer. His dissertation research focused on the theory of transport in dense classical fluids, and resulted in 1969 in the PhD. Degree in Chemical Physics with major in Physical Chemistry and minors in Physics and Mathematics. His thesis was entitled, "Binary-Interaction Expansion of the Classical N-Body Propagator for a Square-Well Fluid". (need to confirm)
In 1969 he joined the research staff of the Center for Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics at the University of Texas at Austin, directed by Ilya Prigogine, and in 1979 became a member of the faculty of the Department of Physics. During a period of postdoctoral research in Prigogine’s group at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Dr. Turner became interested in the then new field of interdisciplinary research involving non-equilibrium instabilities and transitions to dissipative structures in nonlinear physicochemical systems. Since that time, that interest has broadened to encompass self-organization phenomena in non-equilibrium chemistry and physics and in biology. Of particular interest has been the transition to chaos and turbulence in non-equilibrium systems and in the development and behavior of complex systems. Much of this research effort aims at developing efficient, effective computational methods for the automatic analysis of nonlinear systems, with emphasis on the use of parallel-processing multicomputers for analysis and visualization.
Since joining the physics faculty, Dr. Turner has been active in matters of science education at all levels from pre-college to undergraduate and graduate, and beyond. At The University of Texas, he developed two new courses for the undergraduate physics curriculum that reflected his research interests, Introduction to Computational Physics and Introduction to Nonlinear Physics. With computer equipment donated by Texas Instruments and IBM, he established the Physics Microcomputer Laboratory which serves students in undergraduate physics courses. He has been recognized for his undergraduate teaching with the College of Natural Sciences Teaching Excellence Award. He has received numerous grants of computer hardware and software to be used to improve the way we teach physics to the more than 2000 students who enroll in introductory physics courses each semester.
His interest in pre-college science education began in 1980, stimulated by the offer of fifteen student volunteers, when he founded Project SEEE (Science Enrichment in Elementary Education), a student organization at The University of Texas that sends several hundred volunteers each semester to enrich the science experience of elementary school children. Since 1983, he has conducted teacher workshops in physical science for elementary and secondary teachers. Recognizing the need to go beyond the classroom in order to create a science-literate public. In 1984, Dr. Turner became one of the founders of Discovery Hall, a hands-on science and technology center in Austin, Texas. For four years he served as chairman of the board of directors and as acting executive director, and later as head of the exhibits and education committees. Also in 1984, Dr. Turner was co-founder, and director for its first three years, of Discovery Camp, a summer science day camp for elementary school children that also provided training and science teaching experience for teachers who served as camp instructors.
In 1985, Dr. Turner founded the Austin Area Childrens’ Science Fair, providing an opportunity for K-6 children who were winners in local school fairs to compete further and present their projects to a wider audience. Recognizing in 1986 that the state of Texas had never held a state science fair competition for secondary school students, Dr. Turner participated in founding the Texas State Science and Engineering Fair and served as director of this annual competition for its first decade. With support from the National Science Foundation, he co-directed a two-year Young Scholars Program, a nine week summer research program for eighty high school juniors, recruited nationwide, who are interested in pursuing careers in the life sciences, chemistry, or physics.
In 1980, with colleague Dr. Karl Trappe, Dr. Turner created The Traveling Physics Circus in which demonstrations used in physics classes at The University of Texas are taken “on the road.” Originally an outreach program to elementary schools, The Traveling Physics Circus has been performed for all kinds of audiences, at schools from pre-K through high school and college, at meetings of civic and professional organizations, local, state, and national, and even before a national TV audience on the David Letterman Show. The Traveling Physics Circus is still going strong after 40 years.
Since the mid-90's, Dr. Turner’s teaching commitment to the Physics Department has been mainly in the core courses for engineering students, Engineering Physics I and II. During that time, in an effort to improve teaching in these large (130 student) service courses, he worked closely with Professor Fred Moore in developing The Homework Service and Teaching Tools. From these projects was developed the currently used College of Natural Sciences Quest program, a web-based system that generates and collects assignments and maintains student records.
Dr. Turner was a member of the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, Sigma Xi, the National Science Teachers Association, the Texas State Teachers Association, and the Texas Council for Elementary Science.
Jack Turner died on October 16, 2023.