Date(s) - 04/22/2021
10:30 am - 11:30 am


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Alan Lightman is a novelist, essayist, physicist, and educator. Currently, he is Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Until 2003, he was John Burchard Professor of the Humanities at MIT.

Alan has done fundamental research in astrophysics, including black holes, cosmology, and radiation processes. He has written nonfiction books about science, several novels, and several collections of essays. His essays and stories have appeared in Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Granta, Salon, the New York Times, and many other publications. He co-founded the MIT graduate program in science writing. He co-founded the Catalyst Collaborative, which is a partnership between scientists at MIT and the Underground Railway Theater, to produce new plays that concern science. He also founded and directs a nonprofit organization called the Harpswell Foundation, which works to empower women in Cambodia and other developing countries. 

Lightman’s novel Einstein’s Dreams was an international bestseller and has been translated into thirty languages. It was runner-up for the 1994 PEN New England/Boston Globe Winship Award. Einstein’s Dreams was also the March 1998 selection for National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” Book Club. The novel is one of the most widely used texts in universities in the U.S. and, in many cases, adopted for university-wide “common-book” programs. More than fifty independent theatrical and musical productions around the world have been based on Einstein’s Dreams.

Lightman’s novel The Diagnosis was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award in fiction, a selection of Book Sense 76, and a Barnes and Noble national college bestseller. Lightman’s latest novel, Reunion, was a selection of Books Sense 76, a Boston Globe/New England bestseller, a Washington Post bestseller, a Barnes and Nobel national college bestseller, and a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Lightman’s collection of essays, A Sense of the Mysterious, was a finalist for the 2005 Massachusetts Book Award. Lightman’s newest book, The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th Century Science, was named by Discover Magazine as one of the ten best books on science in 2005. The Accidental Universe (2014) was named by Brainpickings as one of the ten best books of the year. The partially fictionalized memoir Screening Room (2015) was named by the Washington Post as one of the best books of the year.

Other awards include the 1990 Association of American Publishers’ Award for Origins as the best book of the year in physical science. In 1995 Lightman was named a Literary Light of the Boston Public Library. In 1996 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and also won the 1996 American Institute of Physics Andrew Gemant Award for linking science to the humanities. In 1998, he was awarded the 1998 Gyorgy Kepes Prize in the Arts from MIT’s Council for the Arts. In 2003, he received a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the California Institute of Technology, that Institution’s highest honor. That year, he also received the 2003 Distinguished Arts and Humanities Medal for Literature, given by the Germantown Arts Alliance (of Tennessee). In May of 2006, he received the Boston Authors’ Club Julia Ward Howe Special Award. Sigma Xi, the international scientific research society, has awarded Lightman the 2006 John P. McGovern Science and Society Award. Lightman has twice been a juror for the Pulitzer Prize, for general nonfiction in 1994 and for fiction in 2004.In 2011, Lightman received a Sydney Award for the best magazine essays of 2011, for his essay “The Accidental Universe,” published in Harper’s magazine. In February 2012, Mr g was chosen as the Novel of the Week by The Week Magazine. Lightman’s essay “What Came Before the Big Bang?” published in Harper’s in 2016, was named by David Brooks in the New York Times as one of the best essays of the year in any category. In 2016, Lightman won the Distinguished Artist of the Year Award from St. Botolph’s Club of Boston. Lightman also was the inaugural winner of the Humanism in Literature Award of the Harvard Humanist Hub.

In 2005, Lightman received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Bowdoin College. In 2006, he received and Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Memphis College of Arts, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In 2010, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Massachusetts. In 2017, Lightman received an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Colgate University. In 2019, Lightman received an honorary doctorate of humanities from Skidmore College.