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Charles Townes awarded $1.5-million Templeton Prize

| 17 March 2005


Charles H. Townes (Copyright UC Regents)
Professor in the Graduate School and Nobel laureate Charles H. Townes has been awarded the 2005 Templeton Prize, which honors and encourages those who advance knowledge in spiritual matters.

Founded in 1972 by pioneering global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the prize (more formally titled the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities) has become the world's best-known religion prize, and at its current value of $1.5 million is certainly the largest annual monetary prize given to an individual.

Townes, 89, won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of the maser, a device that amplifies and produces an intense collimated beam of microwaves, and for showing how similar amplification could be achieved with visible light to yield a laser, a term he coined. His research opened the door for an astonishing array of inventions and discoveries now in common use throughout the world in medicine, telecommunications, electronics, computers, and other areas.

Read excerpts from a statement by Professor Charles Townes at a Templeton Prize news conference in New York on March 9.
As he pursued research in microwave physics and, in recent years, astrophysics, Townes also maintained a continuing interest in the intersection of science and religion. His seminal 1966 article, "The Convergence of Science and Religion," established him as a unique voice - among scientists in particular - seeking commonality between the two disciplines.

"I myself have always thought that science and religion are not unrelated, and should be honestly and openly interacting," Townes wrote in a statement accepting the prize.

This hasn't been the case in science, he said, noting that while he was a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, his adviser "jumped on me for being religiously oriented." When a talk he gave in the early 1960s at New York's famed Riverside Church, on the relation between science and religion, was picked up and printed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's alumni magazine, one prominent alumnus wrote the editor that "if he ever published anything like it again on religion, he would never have anything more to do with MIT."

Townes has continued to examine the link between religion and science in books, journals, and lectures at venues ranging from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to the world's major institutes of higher learning.

The Duke of Edinburgh will award the prize to Townes in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 4. Townes said that he intends to give a major portion of the prize money to his alma mater, Furman University, a Baptist college in his home town of Greenville, S.C., with substantial amounts going also to the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, the Berkeley-based Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Berkeley Ecumenical Chaplaincy to the Homeless, and the First Congregational Church of Berkeley.

In creating the prize, Templeton stipulated that it always be worth more monetarily than the Nobel Prizes to underscore his belief that research and advances in spiritual discoveries can be quantifiably more significant than those recognized by the Nobels.