Harry Lonsdale is a chemist in Bend, Oregon, who made a fortune when he sold his drug development and research company to Pfizer more than 25 years ago. Since then, he has leveraged his wealth for social, civic, and political causes, including a series of unsuccessful bids to become a U.S. senator. The 79-year-old Lonsdale is an avowed atheist who has advocated for gay rights, campaign finance reform, and environmental protections. Now, he's on a mission to accelerate the quest to understand how life originated. Over the past 2 weeks, Lonsdale has taken out ads in Science, Nature, and Chemical and Engineering News announcing an Origin of Life Research Award that includes $50,000 for the best proposal to study the origin of life and up to $2 million in potential funding to carry out the work.
According to Lonsdale, he has assembled a panel of scientists to examine to proposals, including Harvard Medical School Nobelist Jack Szostak and NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay. Unconventional submissions are encouraged and there is one important caveat:
...submissions involving the supernatural or that violate physical laws will not be considered.
One of the main reasons for the installment of the award is the atheism of its founder. In his own words:
"Over the centuries, we've attributed so many things to God's will that have later turned out to have a scientific explanation. I believe that the creation of life was probably not an act of God. It was just nature running its course. I believe an answer will show up to this question ... and the answer will be: God didn't do it, nature did it."
Lonsdale hopes that other philantropists will be encouraged by his contribution to support further research into the origin of life.
For those that are interested, more information can be gathered from the website.