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((A supernova within the galaxy M100 that may contain the youngest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood, in a composite image released to Reuters November 15, 2010/Chandra X-ray Observatory Center) British astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees, whose research delves deep into the mysteries of the cosmos, has won the 2011 Templeton Prize for career achievements affirming life’s spiritual dimension.

The one million sterling (.6 million) award, the world’s largest to an individual, was announced on Wednesday in London.

Lord Rees has widened the boundaries of understanding about the physical processes that define the cosmos, including speculations on the concept of ‘multiverses’ or infinite universes…

The ‘big questions’ Lord Rees raises — such as ‘how large is physical reality?

’ — are reshaping the philosophical and theological considerations that strike at the core of life.” Previous winners of the prize, which seeks to promote better understanding between science and religion, include Catholic nun Mother Teresa, U. preacher Billy Graham and Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn as well as many leading scientists.

During his career, Rees has made important contributions to support the theories of the Big Bang, the explosive start to the universe 13.7 billion years ago, and of the existence of massive “black holes” in space in which even light can be trapped.

Rees, who was awarded the honorary title of Astronomer Royal in 1995, has also been a leading theorist of the “multiverse.” In the past decade, Rees has become active in public debate on global issues, notably man-made threats to the environment.

His research also has led him to take huge steps back to observe humanity and its place in the vast cosmos. Our Sun formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it’s got 6 billion more before the fuel runs out …

so even if life were now unique to Earth, there would be abundant scope for post-human evolution on Earth or far beyond.” My news story on the award is here: UK astrophysicist Rees wins 2011 Templeton prize.

The Templeton Foundation announcement is here, along with several videos with him asnwering questions such as What effect has your scientific research had on your beliefs? and Are human brains capable of understanding the very big, the very small, and the very complex?

In preparation for this announcement, I had an interesting telephone interview last Friday with Sir Martin Rees at Cambridge University in Britan.

Here are some excerpts: * Will science eventually explain everything? I think a separate question is — are we as humans will be able to understand the explanation?

It’s possible that there are explanations, but they may be too difficult for us. There may be post-human species more intelligent than us and maybe some aspect of nature may have to await that.” * The quest for the “theory of everything” — “It’s a very important quest indeed.

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