Russell Stannard was born in London on 24 December 1931 and educated at University College London, where he gained a first class Special Honours Physics B.Sc. degree in 1953 and was awarded the Rosa Morrison Medal for being the most outstanding UCL science student of the year. This was followed with a Ph.D. in 1956 for research work in cosmic ray physics carried out at the Mount Marmolada research station in Italy.
He launched into a career as an experimental high energy nuclear physicist specialising in the bubble chamber and nuclear emulsion techniques. He spent 1959–1960 at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley, California. He worked with accelerators at the Rutherford laboratory, Harwell, and at CERN in Geneva.
A lecturer at University College London until 1969, Stannard became one of the first academics to join and help set up the Open University (OU), which today has grown to become the largest university in the UK with 200,000 students. He was made professor in 1971 and assumed the post of Head of the Physics Department at the OU until 1997. Between 1975 and 1977 he was Pro-Vice Chancellor (Planning) of the OU.
He is a fellow of the Institute of Physics, and a Chartered Physicist, and was elected Vice President of the Institute of Physics (Education) from 1987 to 1991. On taking up an active interest in the relationships between science and religion, he became a Visiting Fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton. In 1986 he was awarded the Templeton Project Award ‘for significant contributions to the field of spiritual values, in particular for contributions to greater understanding of science and religion’. In 1998 he was awarded an OBE by the Queen for ‘contributions to physics, the Open University, and the popularisation of science’. In 2000 he was elected fellow of University College London, awarded to those ‘who have achieved distinction in the arts, literature, science or public life’.
His publications include over sixty papers in refereed journals. Of the twenty-five books he has written, eighteen are aimed at children and have been translated into twenty languages. They have been short listed or nominated for the UK Children’s Science Book Prize (five times), the Whitbread Children’s Novel, the Carnegie Medal, the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Science Writing Award of the American Institute of Physics. His books for adults relating science to religion include: Science and the Renewal of Belief ,Grounds for Reasonable Belief, Doing Away with God?, Science and Wonders, Why?, God for the 21st Century and The God Experiment, and contributed chapters to Evidence of Purpose, How Large Is God? and Evidence of Purpose and Spiritual Evolution. Doing Away With God? was short listed for the Collins Biennial Religious Book of the Year.
In 1994, with financial backing from the John Templeton Foundation, Stannard devised and wrote a series of four twenty-minute videos produced by a BBC team, The Question Is… dealing with the relationships between science and religion for young people. To date, 40 percent of all UK secondary schools have bought the series for use in religious education lessons.
In 1996 Stannard devised and presented Science and Wonders, a series of five forty-five-minute programmes for BBC Radio 4. It was voted the Number 1 Radio Achievement of the year by The Sunday Times.
Over the years he has delivered fifty broadcasts in the Thought for the Day series on BBC Radio 4. In 1996, at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he and the Archbishop of York conducted an all-day seminar on science and religion for all 100 bishops of the Church of England.
Stannard is currently running the Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship Program in Science and Religion. For the past ten years he has been a Trustee of the John Templeton Foundation.