A famous UC Berkeley physicist has won the celebrated Templeton Prize for his efforts to improve understanding between scientists and the religious. Charles Townes, who received the 1964 Nobel Prize for inventing the "maser" and paving scientists' path to its now-ubiquitous descendant, the laser, will receive the $1.5 million award -- the world's best-known religion prize -- from the Duke of Edinburgh in a ceremony to be conducted at Buckingham Palace in England on May 4, UC Berkeley officials said Wednesday. Townes, 89, plans to give substantial shares of the prize to the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, the Berkeley-based Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Berkeley Ecumenical Chaplaincy to the Homeless, and the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, university officials said. The prize was announced Wednesday at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City. Formally known as the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, the award was founded in 1972 by investor-philanthropist Sir John Templeton and is "given each year to a living person to encourage and honor those who advance knowledge in spiritual matters," says a statement issued by the John Templeton Foundation, in West Conshohocken, Pa. Scientists can have epiphanies -- flashes of insight -- reminiscent of the epiphanies described in religious literature, Townes says. He first began publicly discussing the convergence of science and religion in a 1966 article for the IBM magazine Think -- the same year that Time magazine ran a famous cover story that asked: "Is God Dead?" In recent years, many Templeton awards have been given to high-profile scientist-authors such as the physicists Freeman Dyson, Paul Davies and John Polkinghorne.