John Templeton Foundation: 25 years of

Program Intent

The year 2012 marks the centenary of the birth of Sir John Templeton, the 40th Anniversary of the Templeton Prize, and the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the John Templeton Foundation. These occasions provide a unique opportunity to honor the extraordinary vision of Sir John Templeton, who regarded cosmology and astronomy as exemplary scientific pursuits that have continually expanded humanity’s vision of the world.

This three-year, $5.6 million New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology program, led by Donald G. York, Horace B. Horton Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at The University of Chicago, is timed to take advantage of these special occasions and to celebrate and advance the vision of Sir John Templeton. The program aims to support bold, innovative ideas with potential to expand boundaries and deepen the foundation of scientific inquiry and catalyze breakthrough discoveries on Big Questions in astronomy and cosmology, through a worldwide science grant competition and a concurrent essay contest for high school and college students. Approximately 15 grant awards and 16 essay prizes are anticipated.

The project has the following four Big Questions as its themes:

  1. What was the earliest state of the universe?
  2. Is our universe unique or is it part of a much larger multiverse?
  3. What is the origin of the complexity in the universe?
  4. Are we alone in the universe? Or, are there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system?

The program is expected to advance the most fundamental scientific understanding in areas of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology that clearly engage these deep and profound Big Questions and to inspire the youth with the wonders of the Universe. It is hoped that the long-term impact will be a number of ground-breaking ideas arising from the two-year research grants that advance our understanding of the universe and our place within it, as well as cultivation of a motivated cadre of the next generation of scientists to pursue the Big Questions of the future.

Winners will be honored at a two-day conference to be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 12-13, 2012, where they will have an opportunity to present their work. The conference will include a public lecture and a panel discussion featuring leading figures in astronomy and cosmology research.

The Honorary Advisors

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Templeton Prize, eight Templeton Prize laureates whose expertise and interests are closely related to the program themes will serve as Honorary Advisors to the program. The Templeton Prize laureates are listed below with year of the prize awarded.

John D. Barrow, 2006

Professor of Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge. Professor Barrow’s writings on the relationship between life and the universe draw insights from mathematics, physics, and astronomy, challenging scientists and theologians to cross disciplinary boundaries to test what they may or may not understand about the origins of time, space, and matter and the behavior of the universe.

Paul Davies, 1995

Professor of Physics, Arizona State University. A theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Professor Davies’ research has been in the fields of quantum gravity, black holes, early-universe cosmology, and astrobiology as it relates to the origin of life and the transfer of microorganisms between planets.

Freeman Dyson, 2000

Professor Emeritus of Particle Physics, Institute for Advanced Study. A physicist and mathematician, Professor Dyson’s contributions to science include the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga. His writings on the meaning of science and its relation to other disciplines, especially religion and ethics, challenge humankind to reconcile technology and social justice.

George Ellis, 2004

Professor Emeritus of Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town. Professor Ellis is a theoretical cosmologist who has investigated whether or not there was a start to the universe, if there is one universe or many, the evolution of complexity, and the functioning of the human mind, as well as the intersection of these issues with areas beyond the boundaries of science.

Michael Heller, 2008

Professor of Philosophy, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Krakow, Poland. Professor Heller is a cosmologist and Catholic priest who has developed sharply focused and strikingly original concepts on the origin and cause of the universe. He engages a wide range of sources in mathematics, philosophy, cosmology, and theology, allowing each field to share insights that may inform the others without any violence to their respective methodologies.

John Polkinghorne, 2002

Fellow and former President of Queens’ College, University of Cambridge. Reverend Polkinghorne is a mathematical physicist and Anglican priest whose treatment of theology as a natural science has invigorated the search for an interface between science and religion. His writings apply scientific approaches to the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy and have brought him recognition as a unique voice for understanding the Bible and Christian doctrine.

Martin Rees, 2011

Astronomer Royal. Lord 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.

Charles Townes, 2005

Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Berkeley. Professor Townes shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics. His 1966 article, “The Convergence of Science and Religion,” established him as a voice seeking commonality between the two disciplines. He describes his 1951 discovery of the principles of the maser—while sitting on a park bench—as a “revelation” and an example of the interplay between the “how” and “why” of science and religion.