Prize honors physicist with conscience

Physicist Freeman J. Dyson will receive an award next month of greater monetary value than the Nobel prize.

Yet the $948,000 Templeton prize, to be presented in a public ceremony May 16 in Washington, D.C., will not recognize Dyson, 76, for his physics research. The annual honor goes to individuals for originality in advancing religious understanding.

Dyson has been a physics professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., since 1953. Early in his career, he unified several quantum theories of electromagnetism. He’s worked on nuclear energy and propulsion, atomic physics (SN: 10/14/95, p. 252:, and cosmology (SN: 4/5/97, p. 208).

In the late 1970s, Dyson began writing books for a general audience. In his books and lectures, he argues that science and religion both deserve respect as ways of perceiving the universe. Dyson also urges that ethics should more strongly guide technology development, moving innovation beyond what he calls “toys for the rich,” such as cell phones. It’s better to develop technologies that help improve life for the world’s poor, he says.

“Science and religion should work together to abolish the gross inequalities that prevail in the modern world,” Dyson said after the award was announced. About a half-dozen scientists have won the prize since investor John M. Templeton inaugurated it in 1973.

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