UMass Dartmouth physicist receives international honor

UMass Dartmouth physicist receives international honor Among the top winners in the John Templeton Foundation 'Power of Purpose' awards UMass Dartmouth physics professor Alan Hirshfelds essay about 19th century scientist Michael Faraday was among the top five winners of the prestigious John Templeton Foundation Power of Purpose awards announced recently.

UMass Dartmouth physicist receives international honor 
Among the  top winners in the John Templeton Foundation 'Power of Purpose' awards 

UMass Dartmouth physics professor Alan Hirshfeld's essay about 19th century scientist Michael Faraday was among the top five winners of the prestigious John Templeton Foundation 'Power of Purpose' awards announced recently. 

Dr. Hirshfeld's award, which carries a $50,000 cash prize, was one of four second place finishes. The first place $100,000 prize went to August Turak, a businessman and philosophy teacher in Raleigh, North Carolina . There were a total of 19 awards chosen from nearly 7,500 entries from 97 countries. 

"We are elated that Dr. Hirshfeld's work, which contributes so greatly to our understanding of the world and is a source of pride for all who are connected to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, has been honored by the Templeton Foundation," Chancellor MacCormack said. "We congratulate him and all other winners of the Power of Purpose awards." 

Dr. Hirshfeld's award-winning essay, entitled, "How Wonderfully We Stand Upon This World," discusses how Faraday overcame economic obstacles to become the greatest experimental scientist of his time. "I've been writing for the general reader about science my whole professional career, so it was very gratifying to be recognized in an international competition," said Dr. Hirshfeld.  "Getting that call was a dream come true. I was stunned."

"When I read the announcement of the essay contest, I realized immediately that Faraday personified the 'power of purpose,'" Dr. Hirshfeld said. "Poor, self-taught, and trained to be a bookbinder, Faraday managed to break into the exclusive ranks of British science in the 1800s. He then developed the electric motor, electric generator, and many electrical concepts that made possible our modern technological society. And he did none of this for the money; he did it all for his desire to better understand nature -- what you might call the nourishment of his soul."

Dr. Hirshfeld is Professor of Physics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory. He received his undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Princeton University in 1973 and his Ph.D. in astronomy from Yale University in 1978. His widely praised book Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, published in 2002 by Henry Holt & Co., chronicles the human stories involved in the centuries-long quest to measure the first distance to a star. 

A past winner of a Griffith Observatory/Hughes Aircraft Co. national science writing award, he is currently working on a popular biography of Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell, to be published by Walker and Co. Publishers in 2005. He is co-editor of Sky Catalogue 2000.0. His three-part series on the history of observational astrophysics is currently featured in Sky & Telescope magazine. Other writings have appeared in the Astrophysical Journal, Boston Globe, BBC History magazine, The Mathematics Teacher, Isis, and American Scientist. He currently serves on the advisory board of the American Astronomical Society's Historical Astronomy Division and was named in 2003 to MIT's Distinguished Lecturer Series. 

The international winners were chosen by a distinguished panel of judges from many disciplines, including: Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life; Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; Hugh Delehanty, editor-in-chief of AARP Publications; Paul Davies, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology; and Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund. 

The Awards were designed to encourage people to think about the benefits of noble purpose where purpose is defined as something more important than our simple survival, something not merely intellectual, but in our souls. 

The mission of the John Templeton Foundation ( is to support programs, competitions, publications and studies in the human sciences and in character education that promote the exploration of the spiritual nature of the human person. The research is guided by Sir John Templeton?s unyielding optimism that there is much to learn from examining the nature and benefits of such principles as purpose, creativity, gratitude and altruism. 

For more information on the award or to view Dr.Hirshfeld?s award-winning essay, visit

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