By Xiu Ying, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazilian physicist and astronomer Marcelo Gleiser received the Templeton Award 2019 this Wednesday, May 29th, at a ceremony in the United States.
The award is regarded as the “Oscar of Spirituality” and is bestowed on prominent figures who have contributed to affirming the spiritual dimension of life.
He is the first Latin American to win the award, created in 1972, and will receive 1.1 million pounds sterling, the equivalent to R$ 5.5 million.
The John Templeton Foundation announced a few days ago that Gleiser won its prestigious award, given annually to an individual “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”
Since its establishment in 1972, the prize has recognized Nobel Peace Prize laureates, spiritual leaders, dissident intellectuals including Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama and most recently, the Jordanian king.
Mixing the Small with the Universe as a Whole
But how does a physicist and astronomer contribute to spirituality?
Marcelo Gleiser is a theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College specializing in particle cosmology—mixing the physics of the very smallest constituents of the universe with the physics of the universe as a whole.
His main research interests fall into two general areas. The first is the interface between cosmology (which studies the universe as a whole) and particle physics (which examines the smallest material constituents of the universe).
While in his academic work Rio-born Gleiser focuses on numbers, graphs, and tables in search of clues that help unveil the shaping of the universe, in public, he expands the interpretation of such evidence in search of an answer to mankind’s greatest question: “After all, who are we?”
At the award ceremony Wednesday, Gleiser said to Brazilian media outlet G1 that “we need to move beyond the boundaries which have caused real challenges in the modern world,” that “we need to unite,” and that he wants to “devote the coming years and the prize to building the moral sense that we are together, that we must save the planet, life, and all that we have.”
The announcement that Gleiser would receive this year’s award was made in March, the same day that the physicist and astronomer turned 60 years old.
On that occasion, he spoke with G1 and explained how his work contributes to a reflection on spirituality.
“Science is the way to understanding the mystery of human existence,” said Marcelo Gleiser. “This is more or less what paleontologists do: from dinosaur bones, they rebuild the past. We look for clues in the universe to rebuild history, from the Big Bang to the present”, he explains.
In his view, science and spirituality are indivisible: “But, on the other hand, science has limits and offers only one form of explanation,” he says.
“We know that we only see part of reality. This connection with the mystery surrounding us, for me, is deeply spiritual. My speech takes on a whole ecological and social dimension. It informs through science, but it builds a new 21st century ethic for saving our planet and our species.”
(Source: G1 and Templeton Foundation)