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Bridging sciences, humanities, humanitarianism

Media release
29 September 2008

University of Auckland Hood Fellow bridges sciences, humanities, humanitarianism

Few people bridge the divide between the sciences, the humanities and humanitarianism the way Alan Lightman does.

The forthcoming University of Auckland Hood Fellow is internationally renowned as both a physicist and novelist. An adjunct Professor of Humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he was the first person at MIT to receive a joint appointment in science and humanities. He has lectured in more than 75 universities worldwide on the differences and similarities in the ways artists and scientists see the world.

Even beyond these accolades, Alan Lightman is perhaps best known for his novels which include Einstein's Dreams (1993), an international bestseller translated into more than 30 languages; Reunion (2003), which explores themes of identity and passion and the rational; and his most recent novel, Ghost (2007), a provocative examination of the delicate divide between the physical world and the spiritual world, scepticism and faith, the natural and the supernatural, and between science and religion.

Next month, Professor Lightman will deliver three public lectures spanning science, literature and his own international charity work, three areas to which he has devoted his life.

As keynote speaker in the symposium Science and the Humanities, he will first deal with his dual interest in science and the humanities with the lecture "The Physicist as Novelist", which will address the differences and the similarities in the way that scientists and artists view the world

His second lecture "Cambodia; helping to Rebuild a Country After Genocide" will draw in part on his humanitarian work as founder of the Harpswell Foundation, which emphasises empowering a new generation of women leaders in developing countries through housing, education, and leadership training.

Finally, Lightman will present "The Discoveries" which will survey the great discoveries in science in the 20th century and explores the common patterns of discovery.

Lightman is noted for his ability to have works of fiction, addressing scientific concepts, published in scientific journals. He has a long-running career as a science educator and delights in writing works that make abstruse scientific processes accessible to the general reader.

In 1996 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in the same year he won the American Institute of Physics Andrew Gemant Award for linking science to the humanities.

Alan Lightman will deliver the following Hood Fellow lectures at The University of Auckland:

"The Physicist as Novelist", 5pm, 15 October (key note speech for the 5-7pm Symposium on "Science and the Novelist"); room 114, Commerce A Building, 3 Symonds Street.

"Cambodia: Helping to Rebuild a Country after Genocide", 6:30pm, 16 October, University of Auckland Library Theatre (Alfred Street).

"The Discoveries", 6pm, 17 October, Large Chemistry Lecture Theatre, Faculty of Science (23 Symonds St)

For more information visit

The University of Auckland Hood Fellowships are generously supported by the Lion Foundation.


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