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Russell Stannard

Russell Stannard

Qualifications 

B.Sc. (Special Physics) (1953); followed by Ph.D in cosmic ray physics (1956), both at University College London (UCL).

Interview

Awards 

  • OBE for ‘contributions to physics, the Open University, and the popularisation of science’ (1998);
  • Templeton Project Trust Award ‘for significant contributions to the field of spiritual values; in particular for contributions to greater understanding of science and religion’ (1986).
  • The Bragg Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics for ‘distinguished contributions to the teaching of physics’ (1999).
  • Fellow of University College London (awarded to those ‘who have achieved distinction in the arts, literature, science or public life’)

Main Positions held

  • 1960-69 Lecturer, UCL
  • 1969-71 Reader, Open University.
  • 1971-97 Professor of Physics, Open University.
  • 1971-92 Head of the Physics Department, Open University
  • 1974-76 Pro-Vice Chancellor, Open University
  • 1987-88 Visiting Fellow, Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, USA.
  • 1987-91 Vice President of the Institute of Physics.
  • 1966-present Lay Reader in the Church of England.
  • 1993-99 Trustee of the John Templeton Foundation.
  • 1999-present Emeritus Professor of Physics, Open University.

Marital status

Married to Maggi Stannard; four children and three step children; twelve grandchildren.

Additional information

I was one of the first academics to join the Open University when it was set up in 1969. I retired from the university in October 1997, but have since been reappointed as Emeritus Professor.

For most of my life I have carried out research in the field of high energy nuclear physics. This is the study of the ultimate structure of matter and the properties of space and time. This involved working with the atom-smashing machines in Berkeley, California, and Geneva, Switzerland.

I am now concentrating on lecturing, writing and broadcasting. These concern two fields of interest:

Science and religion

I have written a number of books on the subject (Science and the Renewal of Belief, Grounds for Reasonable Belief, Doing Away With God?, Science and Wonders, and contributed chapters to Evidence of Purpose, How Large is God?, and Spiritual Evolution).

Doing Away With God? was shortlisted for the Collins Biennial Religious Book of the Year.

I gave the 1987 and 1988 Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen University and this led to the book, The God Experiment, published by Faber in October 1999, and by HiddenSpring in the USA.

In 1999 I led a team of 50 scientists drawn from eight countries, writing newspaper articles aimed at reviewing how we are to see religious belief in the light of modern science at the dawn of the new millennium. It gave rise to a book, God for the 21st Century, published by the John Templeton Foundation Press and by SPCK in Spring 2000.

In 1996, I devised and presented Science and Wonders, a series of five 45-minute programmes for BBC Radio 4, based on conversations I had with 40 scientists, philosophers, psychologists and theologians. It was voted the Number 1 Radio Achievement of the year by The Sunday Times.

In 1994, with financial backing from the John Templeton Foundation, I devised and wrote a series of four 20-minute videos, The Question Is... dealing with the relationships between science and religion for young people. These were produced by a BBC team. To date, 40% of all UK secondary schools have bought it for use in Religious Education lessons.

Over the past 4 years I have delivered 50 broadcasts in the Thought for the Day series on BBC Radio 4.

Recent other broadcast appearances have included Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman (9 Dec 99) on the subject of religion, Moral Maze (18 Dec 99) on evolution and morality, In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg (23 Dec 99) on prayer, and Heart of the Matter with Joan Bakewell (7 Mar 00).

I give many talks and lectures on science and religion. In 1996, at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I and the Archbishop of York conducted an all-day seminar on science and religion for all 100 bishops of the Church of England. The most notable talks delivered in the last 18 months were a Friday Evening Discourse at The Royal Institution and a Public Lecture at The Royal Society, both on the topic of God and cosmology.

Books for children

Since 1989 I have written 11 books for children, mostly about science. These have included the Uncle Albert trilogy (The Time and Space of Uncle Albert, Black Holes and Uncle Albert, and Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest) which covers the work of Einstein - the special and general theories of relativity, together with quantum theory - in a way that is accessible to children of 10+. The last book in the series was for a time the Number 1 children’s best-seller in the UK, and got to Number 5 in the overall (adults) paperback bestseller list.

The books have been translated into 18 languages, shortlisted for the Science Book Prize (4 times), the Whitbread Children’s Novel of the Year, the American Science Writing Award, and nominated for the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal.

The Curious History of God in which I trace out how the conception of God developed over Biblical times - and is still developing today, came within three votes of being selected Children’s Book of the Year by the Christian Booksellers’ Convention.

Press reviews over the last year have included comments such as:

‘Wonderfully lucid child-friendly answers’ Sunday Telegraph.

‘Enough to make a parent weep with gratitude’ The Guardian

‘The best has just got better... Russell Stannard is the very best writer of science books for children’ The Independent

In addition to writing books for children, I give many talks at schools and literary festivals, such as those at Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Guildford, Hay-on-Wye, etc. On four occasions I have delivered multi-media, pyrotechnic presentations on astronomy, cosmology and relativity to audiences of 800 8-13 year old school children each time at Imperial College London and at Glasgow University. These events have been sponsored by the Institute of Physics, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and the government’s Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

Other interests

I am a sculptor. Until recently I had two large sculptures on display in one of the main quadrangles at the Open Unversity. In 1998, the BBC produced a TV profile devoted to my work in sculpture which they have subsequently screeened on BBC 2 eight times to date.

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Russell Stannard

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