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Michael Faraday Lecture

By Sir Martin Rees FRS
University of Cambridge

2005 is "Einstein year". Scientists will celebrate the insights of the young Einstein and the accelerating pace of cosmic discovery that has stemmed from them. But we shall also celebrate the old Einstein - the benign and unkempt sage of poster and T-shirt became an icon of creativity, and an inspiration for campaigners against nuclear proliferation. Among other scientists, perhaps only Darwin has achieved such broad cultural resonances: he was utterly different in intellectual style, but was, like Einstein, engaged in a quest for 'origins' and for unifying concepts.

What might 'new Einsteins' achieve in the 21st century? Science offers more intellectual challenges than ever, but is a less individualistic enterprise. Technology offers imense opportunities, but poses threats and ethical dilemmas. Can scientists retain public confidence? And can science permeate our culture and politics without undue distortion?