Credit: Dartmouth College/Eli Burakian
HANOVER, N.H. – March 19, 2019 – Marcelo Gleiser, the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth, has been awarded the 2019 Templeton Prize.
The award, among the world’s richest annual prizes for an individual, honors Gleiser for blending hard science and deep spirituality in his work as a researcher, professor and public intellectual.
Gleiser is the 49th recipient of the award, joining a list that also includes Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama. This year’s prize is valued at 1.1 million British pounds (about $1.4 million).
The award was announced online today by the John Templeton Foundation.
Gleiser, a theoretical physicist, specializes in cosmology, high-energy physics, complexity theory, and astrobiology. He has also authored books on topics ranging from the origin of the universe to how science engages with spirituality.
“I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this prize,” said Gleiser. “To see my work of so many years celebrated at this level is profoundly gratifying and inspiring. This prize is not the end, but a new beginning. I will work harder than ever to spread my message of global unity and planetary awareness to a wider audience, as we prepare to face this century’s daunting social, technological, and environmental challenges.”
The Templeton Prize is presented to honor “a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works,” according to the foundation.
Gleiser joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth in 1991. He is known at Dartmouth for blending his research and teaching with deep thinking on the nature of spirituality.
“Professor Gleiser embodies the values that inspired my grandfather to establish the Templeton Prize and to create the John Templeton Foundation,” said Heather Templeton Dill, the foundation’s president. “Two values which were especially important for him, and the focus of various foundation grants, are the pursuit of joy in all aspects of life, and the profound human experience of awe.”
Gleiser studies the interface between what he calls the “physics of the very large” and “the physics of the very small” to reconstruct the beginnings of the universe. He also researches the origin of life on Earth and the possibility of life beyond the planet.
Gleiser’s early-career research includes a paper on the application of superstring theory to Big Bang cosmology, which was one of the first studies in this field. In 1994, Gleiser co-discovered oscillons–small, long-lived energy “lumps” made of sub-atomic particles–opening up a new avenue of research and inspiring research groups around the world. He is also recognized for his work on phase transitions in cosmology and the origin of matter.
Gleiser’s most recent research uses information theory to study the life and death of stars and other physical objects. In addition to his research, Gleiser teaches an undergraduate physics course and mentors graduate and post-doctoral candidates at Dartmouth.
“This is an extraordinary first for Dartmouth, and we could not be prouder of Marcelo, whose work goes to the heart of humanity’s place in the cosmos and explores the biggest questions about our existence,” said Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon. “This award acknowledges his place among the scientists, theologians, writers, and others who have transformed the way we view the world.”
The Templeton Prize was established in 1972 by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton to promote discoveries relating to the “deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind” on “subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and emergence to creativity, forgiveness, and free will.”
Gleiser, a native of Brazil, is the first Latin American to win the award. He is also the first scientist to be presented the Templeton Prize since theoretical astrophysicist Martin Rees in 2011. Gleiser joins a list of eminent scientists that have been honored, including Freeman Dyson, who was a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth in 1994.
“The prize celebrates the work of many wonderful individuals, including some of the great physicists and scientists of our time whose research explored questions of meaning and value beyond the traditional confines of their disciplines. To think that I’d one day be included in this distinguished group, being an immigrant from Brazil, is unbelievable,” said Gleiser.
Gleiser received his undergraduate degree from Brazil’s Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. He received his master’s degree from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and his PhD from King’s College in London. He is a Fellow and past General Councilor of the American Physical Society as well as a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Faculty Fellows Award.
At Dartmouth, Gleiser directs the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement (ICE), which was founded through a separate grant from the Templeton Foundation. ICE supports a fellows program, public dialogues, and online courses as part of the DartmouthX series of massive open online courses featured on EdX.
“I thank Dartmouth from the bottom of my heart, my home for the past 27 years, for allowing me to pursue my ideas both in physics and in science and spirituality. It serves to prove that passion and dedication can indeed open many doors in life, even those that you never planned to open,” Gleiser said.
Gleiser works to advance the public understanding of science. He has published five books in the United States and numerous others in his native Brazil. Gleiser also co-founded the long-running 13.7: Cosmos and Culture blog for National Public Radio with fellow astrophysicist Adam Frank. The blog now appears as 13.8 at ORBITER Magazine. His online course “Question Reality!” has reached thousands of students from more than 120 countries, and was the first bilingual offering from EdX.
The award will be presented at a ceremony in New York City on Wednesday, May 29.
Follow the Templeton Prize on Twitter: @TempletonPrize and #TempletonPrize2019
Follow Marcelo Gleiser on Twitter: @MGleiser
Follow Dartmouth College on Twitter: @Dartmouth
Founded in 1769, Dartmouth is a member of the Ivy League and offers the world’s premier liberal arts education, combining its deep commitment to outstanding undergraduate and graduate teaching with distinguished research and scholarship in the arts and sciences and its leading professional schools: the Geisel School of Medicine, the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, Thayer School of Engineering, and Tuck School of Business.
About the Templeton Prize
The Templeton Prize each year honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. Established in 1972 by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the Prize is a cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind. The Foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and emergence to creativity, forgiveness, and free will. The monetary value of the Prize is set always to exceed the Nobel Prizes to underscore Templeton’s belief that benefits from discoveries that illuminate spiritual questions can be quantifiably more vast than those from other worthy human endeavors. Everyone is a potential nominator for the Templeton Prize.