In 1968, together with Dennis Sciama, Rees was the first to predict that fluctuations in the microwave background were due to the uneven distribution of matter in the universe. His research into the structure and evolution of the universe has also sparked many other research efforts. Elsewhere, his work as a spokesperson, educator, writer and public speaker have raised the profile of astrophysics and brought it to a wider audience.

The prize - which consists of a gold medal and a cash award of $150 000 - will be presented on 2 November in Bern, Switzerland, where Einstein formulated his special theory of relativity.