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About the Lewis Thomas Prize

“We must rely on scientists to help us find the way through the near distance, but for the longer stretch of the future we are dependent on the poets. A poet is, after all, a sort of scientist, but engaged in a qualitative science in which nothing is measurable. He lives with data that cannot be numbered, and his experiments can be done only once.”
-Lewis Thomas, “A Trip Abroad”

The Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science is an international award that honors the “scientist as poet” and recognizes “the rare individual who bridges the worlds of science and the humanities, whose voice and vision can tell us about science’s aesthetic and philosophical dimensions.” Established in 1993 by The Rockefeller University Board of Trustees, the prize is named after its first recipient – writer, educator, and physician-scientist Lewis Thomas.

Elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 1972, Lewis Thomas combined an active medical practice, teaching, and administration with a successful literary career as a poet and essayist. As a medical student at Harvard University, Dr. Thomas displayed literary ambition and published several poems. In 1971, he began contributing a regular column, “Notes of a Biology Watcher,” to the New England Journal of Medicine. Some of these elegant essays were published as Dr. Thomas’s first collection, The Lives of a Cell (1974), winner of the National Book Award. Dr. Thomas served as dean of the medical schools of Yale University and New York University, and ended his long career at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he was president from 1973 to 1980, chancellor from 1980 to 1983, and president emeritus until his death at the age of 80 in 1993.

The prize is bestowed upon a Committee-selected recipient during an annual celebratory event held at Rockefeller University. The Lewis Thomas Prize Committee strives to honor the memory and accomplishments of Lewis Thomas by recognizing outstanding individuals for their exceptional careers as scientists and writers, including their ability to evoke inspiration in others. The event is open to the public and free to attend. Registration is required.

For more information and to register for the 2022 event, click here
To view a complete list of past Lewis Thomas Prize recipients, click here.

Lewis Thomas Prize logo


Nathan Rudder
Assistant Director
Outreach Programming and Events
The Rockefeller University
1230 York Avenue, Box 164
New York, NY 10065

Attendance Policy

The Rockefeller University will update its attendance policy to reflect the guidance of medical and public health experts. The health and safety of our audience is of the utmost importance to us. As such, please note the university’s current COVID-19 policy on event attendance.

In-person Attendance:

  • Currently limited to Rockefeller University personnel only according to COVID-19 restrictions on campus.
  • Registration for in-person attendance requires the use of a computer or mobile device connected to the RU network or VPN.
  • Face coverings are required at all times while inside the building.
  • Attendees should maintain social distancing whenever they are able.

Virtual Attendance:

  • Open to the public.
  • Registration can be completed from any computer or mobile device.
  • A link to participate in the prize presentation and lecture via Zoom will be sent in advance of the performance.