The John Templeton Foundation in West Consohocken, Pensylvania, has announced cosmologist Martin J. Rees as the winner of the 2011 Templeton Prize. Established in 1972 by financier and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the prize honors an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension and includes a cash award of more than $1.6 million, making it the largest annual prize given to an individual.
Rees, master of Trinity College, one of Cambridge University's top academic posts, and former president of the Royal Society, the highest leadership position within British science, has spent decades investigating the implications of the big bang, the nature of black holes, events during the so-called "dark age" of the early universe, and the mysterious explosions from galaxy centers known as gamma ray bursters. In his work with many colleagues over the years, Rees has enlarged the boundaries of understanding about the physical processes that define the cosmos, including speculations on the concept of "multiverses," or infinite universes. Raised in the customs of the Anglican church, he told the Financial Times that he has no religious beliefs.
Rees' investigations into the nature of the universe have been balanced with efforts to encourage the international scientific community to raise public awareness of the impact of human activity on the planet in the twenty-first century — the first, Rees believes, in which a single species — humans — will be able to determine the future of the entire biosphere. He has made that argument in his book Our Final Century? (published in the United States as Our Final Hour).
"The questions Rees raises have an impact far beyond the simple assertion of facts, opening wider vistas than any telescope ever could," said John Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the Templeton Foundation. "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."