Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek has been honored with this year's Templeton Prize. The award recognizes individuals whose life’s work brings together science and spirituality.
Wilczek is known for his investigations into the laws of nature. In a statement, the John Templeton Foundation said his work changes “our understanding of the forces that govern our universe.” It said he used physics to address “the great questions of meaning and purpose pondered by generations of religious thinkers.”
The late Sir John Templeton created the prize in 1972. It is one of the most highly valued prizes at more than $1.3 million. Past winners include Jane Goodall, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Wilczek told The Associated Press, “It’s a company I’m very glad to join.” He added, “It’s encouragement in a direction that I’ve really only taken up in a big way quite recently…which is thinking about not just what the world is and how it came to be this way but what we should do about it.”
Over a long career, Wilczek had many successes. He won the 2004 Nobel Prize along with David J. Gross, and H. David Politzer for their 1973 research explaining the unusual properties of the strong force.
Wilczek is currently a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Arizona State University and Stockholm University. He is also the founding director of Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s T.D. Lee Institute
He has also written several books that are informed by science but look into spiritual and philosophical questions. His book A Beautiful Question, asks, “Does the universe embody beautiful ideas?” The Lightness of Being” is an examination of what humans are made of. And Fundamentals explores long life extension and immortality.
“In studying how the world works, we are studying how God works, and thereby learning what God is,” he writes in Fundamentals.
Heather Dill is the Templeton Foundation president. In a statement, she said: “Like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, he is a natural philosopher who unites a curiosity about the behavior of nature with a playful and profound philosophical mind.”
Born in 1951 in New York, Wilczek earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in math and a doctorate in physics from Princeton.
Growing up Catholic, he supported the idea that there was a plan behind existence. But as he learned more about science, he eventually lost trust in traditional religion, and rejected “detailed dogmas.”
Still, he took from Catholicism ideas that he has valued throughout his life. Including, he told AP, “that there’s a hidden meaning to things that we can try to figure out. And that you can think in big terms of what it all means and how it came to be.”
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
ponder — v. to think about or consider carefully
encouragement — n. the act of making something more appealing or more likely to happen
philosophy — n. the study of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life, etc.
immortal — adj. not capable of dying; living forever
curiosity — n. the desire to learn or know more about something or someone
profound — adj. having or showing great knowledge or understanding
dogma — n. a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted