Rockefeller University names Martin Rees 2009 Lewis Thomas Prize winner

Cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees has been named the recipient of Rockefeller University’s Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science for 2009. The award recognizes Rees’s 2000 publication Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe, and will be presented to him at a ceremony at the university’s Caspary Auditorium on April 26.

Established in 1993 by The Rockefeller University Board of Trustees, the prize is named after its first recipient — writer, educator and physician-scientist Lewis Thomas. The award honors “the rare individual who bridges the worlds of science and the humanities — whose voice and vision can tell us about science’s aesthetic and philosophical dimensions.” Past recipients of the award include Freeman Dyson, Jared Diamond, Oliver Sacks, Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins.

Rees studied at the University of Cambridge. In 1973, he became a fellow of King’s College and Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge, a post he held for 18 years before becoming a research professor. He is currently professor of cosmology and astrophysics and master of Trinity College at Cambridge, president of The Royal Society, Astronomer Royal and a member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords.

From 1984 to 1988, Rees was Regents Fellow of the Smithsonian Institute. He is a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy and a number of other foreign academies. A trustee of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, Rees is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Royal Swedish Academy’s Crafoord Prize, the Balzan Prize, the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science from The Franklin Institute, the Gruber Cosmology Prize and the UNESCO Niels Bohr Medal.

“In his book Just Six Numbers, Martin takes us on a journey through the cosmos, and introduces us to six exquisitely tuned numbers that enable the universe — and life as we know it — to exist,” says Paul Nurse, the university’s president. “Martin provides his readers with lucid and compelling descriptions of the origins and meanings of nature’s fundamental constants. It is a great pleasure to recognize him with the Lewis Thomas Prize.”

Rees has made seminal contributions to our understanding of how the universe operates, including the origin of cosmic microwave background radiation and the distribution of quasars, work that challenged the Steady State theory of the origin of the universe in favor of the Big Bang. He was also among the first to suggest that quasars are powered by black holes. The author of more than 500 research papers, Rees has also shared his extensive explorations through seven volumes of popular science.

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