University of Texas
Jack Sherrill Turner
December 4, 1942– October 16, 2023



Jack Turner


Jack Sherrill Turner was born December 4, 1942, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Henry Arlin and Thelma Louis Sherrill. Arlin was an English professor with a PhD from the University of Texas and Thelma was a foreign language teacher. Jack's siblings were sister, Arline Elizabeth Turner (Fonda), and brother, Richard Arlin Turner. Jack 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, "Some Aspects of the Nonequilibrium Statistical Mechanics of a Classical Square-well Fluid".

It was at Indiana University that Jack met fellow student, Stella Elaine Heald. They were married in West Lebanon, Indiana in 1967.  Jack and Stella had two sons, Sam and Will. In 1968, they moved to Austin. During this last year of his dissertation, Jack collaborated with the Center for Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics at the University of Texas at Austin, directed by Ilya Prigogine and used the Texas computer center for computations. In Austin, Stella earned her master's in Zoology and a nursing degree from the University of Texas. Stella worked as a registered nurse at Brackenridge Hospital for 14 years. 

In 1969, Jack joined the research staff of the Center for Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics at the University of Texas at Austin, directed by Ilya Prigogine. In 1979, he 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, Jack became interested in the then new field of interdisciplinary research involving non-equilibrium instabilities and transitions to dissipative structures in nonlinear physicochemical systems. That interest broadened to encompass self-organization phenomena in non-equilibrium chemistry and physics and in biology.  One focus of his work in this area was the Belousov-Zhabotinsky chemical reaction which, when driven far from chemical equilibrium, forms new dissipative chemical structures that can oscillate both in space and in time. He was also interested in the transition to chaos and turbulence in non-equilibrium systems and, more generally, in the development and behavior of complex systems. Much of his research effort was aimed at developing efficient, effective computational methods for the analysis of nonlinear systems, with emphasis on the use of parallel-processing multi-computers for analysis and visualization.

After joining the physics faculty, Dr. Turner was 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 served students in undergraduate physics courses. He was recognized for his undergraduate teaching with the College of Natural Sciences Teaching Excellence Award. He received numerous grants of computer hardware and software to be used to improve the way physics was taught to the more than 2000 students who enroll in introductory physics courses each semester.

Jack’s 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 that sent several hundred student volunteers each semester to enrich the science experience of elementary school children. He conducted teacher workshops in physical science for elementary and secondary teachers. Recognizing the need to go beyond the classroom to create a science-literate public, in 1984, Professor 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 Children’s 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 were 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 UT physics classes were 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 more than 40 years. 

Since the mid-90's, Dr. Turner’s teaching commitment to the Physics Department was 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 service courses, he worked closely with Professor Fred Moore in developing The Homework Service and Teaching Tools. From these projects developed the College of Natural Sciences Quest program, a web-based system that generated and collected assignments and maintained 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’s wife, Stella tragically developed early onset Alzheimer's. Jack provided loving and tender personal care during her ten years of decline. Stella died in 2003. In 2005, Jack married Nancy Wagner Black, a fellow educator.

Jack loved traveling with his family. Backpacking, canoeing, singing, power lifting and repairing anything that was broken were a few of his talents and interests.

Jack Turner retired from the UT Austin physics department in August 2016. He passed away on October 16, 2023. Jack was survived by his, sons, Sam and Will, their spouses and his grandchildren and his wife Nancy and her children and grandson.

Program from Jack Turner's Celebration of Life, written by his sons, Sam and Will:

December 2, 2023

L to R: Ava Turner, Asa Turner, Adele Turner, Jennifer Colehower, Sam Turner, Jack Turner, (baby) Elan Turner, Will Turner, Laure Katz, Michael Turner, Stella Turner


Jack Turner Photo Album

Henry Arlin Turner, West Texas State Teachers College, 1927.
Thelma Louise Sherrill , Mississippi Southern College, 1930.
Jack's parents, Henry Arlin and Thelma Louise Sherrill Turner
Henry Arlin and Jack Turner, ca. 1943
Arline, Arlin, Jack, Thelma and Richard Turner, ca 1948-49
Left to Right: Jack, Thelma, Richard, Arlin and Arline Turner. London. Metro Sign in background. 1952
They went over on the Queen Mary. Jack was nine.
Front: Richard, Arline and Jack; Back: Arlin and Thelma.
Richard, Arline and Jack Turner
Fellow Boy Scout and Jack Turner
Jack Sherrill Turner, Durham High School, 1960, Durham, NC, Senior Photo
Jack Sherrill Turner, Durham High School, 1960, Durham, NC, Activities

Jack Sherrill Turner, Physics Club, Durham High School, 1960, Durham, NC, Back row in tie next to rocket.

Jack Sherrill Turner, Duke University, 1963, Durham, NC, Middle of photo.
Jack Turner
Stella Elaine Heald and Jack Turner, West Lebanon, Indiana in 1967
Jack Turner, ?, and Nobel Prize Winner Ilya Prigogine.
Jack Swift and Jack Turner
Duane Dicus, Mike Wren, and Jack Turner
Jack Turner doing the "bed of nails" demonstration for elementary students at a Physics Circus.
Jack Turner doing a demonstration for an elementary school class.
Jack Turner, bed of nails demo with son Sam Tiurner as victum.
Jack and Nancy Wagner Black Turner, 2005
Will and Jack Turner
Jack Turner and grandsons.
Karl Trappe and Jack Turner
Nancy and Jack Turner with grandchildren
Sam and Jack Turner
Jack Turner birthday.
Jack Turner, liquid nitrogen demo

L to R: Ava Turner, Asa Turner, Adele Turner, Jennifer Colehower, Sam Turner, Jack Turner, (baby) Elan Turner, Will Turner, Laure Katz, Michael Turner, Stella Turner

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