Dartmouth College physicist and astronomer Marcelo Gleiser is the 2019 Templeton Prize winner, the Templeton Foundation announced. Born in Brazil, Gleiser is the first Latin American to be awarded the prize, which “recognizes living individuals for their contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension,” according to a statement from the foundation.
In addition to his role as Appleton professor of natural philosophy and a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth, Gleiser is the author of five books, including The Dancing Universe (Plume, 1998) and The Island of Knowledge (Basic, 2015). Gleiser’s work has expressed skepticism of the quest to find mathematical perfection in the universe and rejects any certainty that physics has solved the question of the universe’s origin. As a result, he is being recognized as part of the John Templeton Foundation’s efforts to drive “discoveries relating to the deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind,” according to the statement.
“Professor Gleiser’s work displays an undeniable joy of exploration,” said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the foundation.
In a past interview with PW, Gleiser praised efforts to learn more about the universe, despite what he described as limitations, mistakes, and surprises. “It seems presumptuous to me that we humans, with our finite brains, could actually know everything,” he said. “The way knowledge advances is by finding mistakes; we need to be wrong to know what questions to ask next. To me, the fact that there is this element of surprise, that we can’t be sure exactly if we’re going in the right direction, is a wonderful thing.”
Named after British entrepreneur John Templeton, the Templeton Prize is one of the world's largest annual individual monetary awards, currently valued at over $1.4 million. Previous winners include Mother Teresa, Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and most recently, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan.