- Astronomer Royal awarded for widening understanding of the cosmos -
LONDON, APRIL 6 – Martin J. Rees, a theoretical astrophysicist whose profound insights on the cosmos have provoked vital questions that address mankind’s deepest hopes and fears, has won the £1 million Templeton Prize, the world's largest annual monetary award given to an individual.
Lord Rees, 68, is Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a former president of the Royal Society. He has spent decades investigating the implications of the big bang, the nature of black holes, the so-called ‘dark age’ of the early universe, and the mysterious explosions from galaxy centres known as gamma ray bursters.
The ‘big questions’ Lord Rees raises – such as ‘How large is physical reality?’ – are reshaping the philosophical and theological considerations that strike at the core of life, fostering the spiritual progress that the Templeton Prize seeks to recognise.
In his work with colleagues, Lord Rees has widened the boundaries of understanding about the physical processes that define the cosmos, including speculations on the concept of ‘multiverses’, or infinite universes.
These investigations are balanced with his urging the international scientific community to raise public awareness of the impact of human activity on Earth in the 21st century, the first, Lord Rees says, when one species – humans – can determine the future of the entire planet.
His award of the Templeton Prize, which honours a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, was announced at a news conference at The Royal Institution of Great Britain.
In a statement delivered at today’s news conference, Lord Rees said: “Some people might surmise that intellectual immersion in vast expanses of space and time would render cosmologists serene and uncaring about what happens next year, next week, or tomorrow. But, for me, the opposite is the case. My concerns are deepened by the realisation that, even in a perspective extending billions of years into the future, as well as into the past, this century may be a defining moment.”
John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation, noted that for all the discoveries attached to Lord Rees’s career, it is the questions he inspires that qualify him for the 2011 Templeton Prize.
Dr Templeton said: “The questions Lord Rees raises have an impact far beyond the simple assertion of facts, opening wider vistas than any telescope ever could.
“By peering into the farthest reaches of the galaxies, Martin Rees has opened a window on our very humanity, inviting everyone to wrestle with the most fundamental questions of our nature and existence.”
In her nomination of Lord Rees for the Templeton Prize, Virginia Trimble, professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine, stated: “Looking back over his career, one is impressed by how early he seized on the importance of fields that are now central to the astronomical enterprise, and by the durability and prescience of his insights.”
In his recommendation of Lord Rees for the Templeton Prize, Robert Williams, president of the International Astronomical Union, noted: “I have found Martin’s books and lectures, of which I have read and heard numerous, extremely thought provoking. He is very unusual in that he constantly touches on spiritual themes without dealing explicitly with religion. I do not know whether he is a theist, for example.”
Lord Rees has no religious beliefs, but considers himself a product of Christian culture and ethics, explaining: “I grew up in the traditions of the Anglican church and those are the ‘customs of my ‘tribe’. I’m privileged to be embedded in its wonderful aesthetic and musical traditions and want to do all I can to preserve and strengthen them.”
Lord Rees is one of the world’s most renowned astrophysicists, authoring and co-authoring more than 500 research papers and several books, with lectures and broadcast appearances worldwide.
The Templeton Prize has been made each year since 1973 by the John Templeton Foundation. HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, will award the Prize on Wednesday 1 June in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
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Martin Rees was born in 1942, growing up in Shropshire.
He received a research invitation to the university’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics, where he was inspired by Dennis Sciama, a brilliant scientist whose other students included Templeton Prize laureates George Ellis and John Barrow, as well as Stephen Hawking, James Binney and Brandon Carter.
His post-graduate work in astrophysics in the mid-1960s coincided with an explosion of new discoveries, with breakthroughs ranging from confirmation of the big bang, the discovery of neutron stars and black holes, and a host of other revelations. Rees quickly established himself as one of the bright young luminaries in this field.
Rees obtained his Ph.D. in theoretical astronomy in 1967. After short-term posts in the US and a period at Sussex University, he returned to Cambridge in 1973 on appointment as Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1979. As the society’s president from 2005 to 2010 he provided wide advice on policy questions to the UK government and interaction with scientific academies worldwide.
He is a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) and the American Philosophical Society. He has received numerous academic awards, and has served as a visiting professor or adviser at institutions around the world.
In 2005, Rees was appointed to the House of Lords as a non-party-political peer, sitting on the Cross Benches as Lord Rees of Ludlow. He was knighted in 1992 and was appointed to the Order of Merit in 2007. In 1995 he became Astronomer Royal.
The Templeton Prize is a cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation's international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life's biggest questions, ranging from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity.
The Templeton Prize aims to identify "entrepreneurs of the spirit", outstanding individuals who have devoted their talents to expanding notions or understanding about ultimate purpose and reality.