Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and author Frank Wilczek, the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at MIT, has been awarded the 2022 Templeton Prize. This prize is awarded to individuals whose life’s work embodies a fusion of science and spirituality.
“He is one of those rare and wonderful individuals who bring together a keen, creative intellect and an appreciation for transcendent beauty,” says Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, in the foundation’s press release. “Like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, he is a natural philosopher who unites a curiosity about the behavior of nature with a playful and profound philosophical mind.”
Wilczek won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with David Gross and David Politzer, for their 1973 discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction. Other achievements in physics include proposing a leading explanation for dark matter, the invention of axions, and the discovery and exploitation of new forms of quantum statistics (anyons).
He has written several popular books, including “A Beautiful Question” (2015) and “The Lightness of Being” (2008). With his wife, Betsy Devine, he wrote “Longing for the Harmonies” (1988).
In his most recent book, “Fundamentals” (2021), Wilczek presents a set of 10 insights drawn from physics and harmonized with artistic and philosophical sources to illuminate characteristics of physical reality.
He is also a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, where he discusses scientific subjects for a broad readership. For his contributions to Physics Today and to Nature, where he explains topics at the frontiers of physics to wider scientific audiences, he received the Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society.
“The intent of the Templeton Prize is noble and timely, and something the world needs, which is to bring attention to the possibility of new approaches to the problems or situations or challenges that people have traditionally accessed through religion, and many people still do,” he says in his video statement for the Templeton Prize. “The central miracle of physics to me is the fact that by playing with equations, drawing diagrams, doing calculations, and working within the world of mental concepts and manipulations, you are actually describing the real world. If you were looking for trying to understand what God is by understanding God’s work, that’s it.”
Wilczek joined MIT in 2000 with appointments in the Department of Physics and the Center for Theoretical Physics. “I feel that MIT, through its unique atmosphere of scientific engagement with the world and its willingness to accommodate my sometimes unusual explorations, has helped me to thrive,” Wilczek says.
Wilczek received a BS at the University of Chicago in 1970, and a PhD in physics at Princeton University in 1974. He taught at Princeton from 1974 to 1981. From 1981 to 1988, he was the Chancellor Robert Huttenback Professor of Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the first permanent member of the National Science Foundation’s Institute for Theoretical Physics. With the Institute for Advanced Study, he was the J.R. Oppenheimer Professor until 2000. Since 2002, he has been an adjunct professor in the Centro de Estudios Científicos of Valdivia, Chile.
He is also founding director of the T.D. Lee Institute and chief scientist at Wilczek Quantum Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University; distinguished professor at Arizona State University; and professor at Stockholm University.
Wilczek has been a Sloan Foundation Fellow (1975–77) and a MacArthur Foundation Fellow (1982–87). He has received UNESCO’s Dirac Medal, the American Physical Society’s Sakurai Prize, the Michelson Prize from Case Western University, and the Lorentz Medal of the Netherlands Academy for his contributions to the development of theoretical physics. In 2004 he received the King Faisal Prize. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Netherlands Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a trustee of the University of Chicago.
“Throughout Dr. Wilczek’s philosophical reflections, there is a spiritual quality to his ideas,” says Templeton Dill. “By uncovering a remarkable order in the natural world, Dr. Wilczek has come to appreciate different ways of thinking about reality, and through his written work, he has invited all of us to join him in the quest for understanding.”
As the 2022 Templeton Prize laureate, Wilczek will participate in several virtual and in-person events, including a 2022 Templeton Prize event in the fall, where he will deliver a Templeton Prize lecture.
Wilczek is the sixth Nobel laureate to receive the Templeton Prize since its inception in 1972 and joins a list of 51 prize recipients including St. Teresa of Kolkata, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and last year’s prize winner, Jane Goodall.
The Templeton Prize, valued at more than $1.3 million, was established by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton to honor those who harness the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.