Desmond Tutu Wins Templeton Prize

Desmond Tutu, the Anglican cleric and former archbishop of Cape Town who is known for his activism against apartheid in South Africa, is the 2013 Templeton Prize winner. He was awarded the prize for his “lifelong work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness which has helped to liberate people around the world,” the Templeton Foundation said in a statement.

This is the second year in a row that the prize has gone to a big-name spiritual leader—last year it was awarded to the Dalai Lama—rather than a scientist who addresses questions or issues related to the intersection of science and religion, as had become the norm in recent years (though the Dalai Lama was honored for promoting collaborations between Buddhism and science). In prepared video remarks, Tutu said he was “totally bowled over” by winning the prize.

Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and was later appointed chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated human rights abuses under apartheid. Working with groups like The Elders, he continues to draw attention to injustice, advocate for peace and human rights, and emphasize human connectedness and interdependence.

The Templeton Prize, valued at about 1.7 million dollars, honors someone who has made “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” It will be officially presented to Tutu at a public ceremony at Guildhall in London on May 21.

Dalai Lama Wins Templeton Prize

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader known for his doctrine of nonviolence, is the 2012 Templeton Prize winner. He accepted the award in a prepared video statement.

For decades, the Dalai Lama has encouraged a dialogue among different religions and between science and religion, specifically promoting collaborations that examine the ways science and Buddhism can learn from each other to better understand the human mind, consciousness, and emotions, and explore some of life’s big questions—like whether compassion can be taught.

He co-founded the Mind & Life Institute to promote scientific research into the benefits of spiritual practices, and he helped create programs that introduce science education into Tibetan monasteries in India. In 2009, Stanford University launched The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education with a 150,000 dollar donation from the Dalai Lama. The center supports scientific research into compassion and altruistic behavior in an effort to improve well-being.

The Templeton Prize, valued at about 1.7 million dollars, celebrates someone who has made “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” It will be officially presented to the Dalai Lama at a ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on May 14.

Martin Rees Wins Templeton Prize

Martin Rees, a theoretical astrophysicist, the master of Trinity College at Cambridge University, and the former president of Britain’s Royal Society, is the 2011 Templeton Prize winner. He accepted the award this morning at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London.

For decades, Rees has explored some of life’s big questions—like the emergence of the cosmos and the size of physical reality—by studying black holes, galaxy formation, and gamma ray bursts and making speculations on the multiverse. He has also urged the scientific community to raise awareness of how human activity is impacting our planet. His book Our Final Hour argues that we now have the power to determine the future of the entire biosphere.

As he explained in prepared remarks:

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 realization 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. Our planet has existed for 45 million centuries, but this is the first in its history where one species—ours—has Earth’s future in its hands, and could jeopardize not only itself, but life’s immense potential.

The Templeton Prize, valued at about 1.61 million dollars, celebrates someone who has made “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” While Rees says he has no religious beliefs and was surprised to win the award, the big questions his work raises “are reshaping crucial philosophical and theological considerations that strike at the core of life, fostering the spiritual progress that the Templeton Prize has long sought to recognize,” the Templeton Foundation said in a statement. The prize will be officially awarded to Rees by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on June 1.

Congratulations, Kavli Prize Winners

Eight scientists will share the three 2010 Kavli Prizes, which recognize advances in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience, and are each worth 1 million dollars.
Jerry Nelson, Ray Wilson, and Roger Angel will share the astrophysics prize for their contributions to the giant telescopes that let us see further back in time and deeper into space than ever before. Donald Eigler, who was the first to pick up an individual atom and move it precisely to another location, and Nadrian Seeman, who invented the field of structural DNA nanotechnology, will split the nanoscience prize, and the neuroscience prize will be split among Thomas Südhof, Richard Scheller, and James Rothman for their work on how brain cells signal each other.