Prof. John Wilmes (MATH) used the money that he won from the Wellington Prize to pursue his dream of seeing sloths in the Amazon Rainforest, according to a Sept. 16 BrandeisNOW article. The Wellington Prize winner is randomly selected at the end of each year. 

The Wellington Prize is an annual prize of $3,000 given by Brandeis University to an associate professor to use for any purpose other than academic research, according to BrandeisNOW. 

Wilmes and his wife, Madlen, traveled to Peru in July, where they spent a week canoeing along the Marañon River and camping in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. According to Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism’s website, the reserve covers over five million acres of land and is the second-largest protected area in Peru. Apart from sloths, the jungle was host to a diverse population of wildlife, including birds, monkeys, piranhas and gray and pink dolphins that he saw “jumping out every 15 minutes,” Wilmes said in an interview with the Justice. Encountering settlements of people living in the jungle with limited access to electricity was “grounding” and thought-provoking, Wilmes said.  

When asked why he was interested in sloths in particular, Wilmes said he was drawn to their lifestyle of simplicity and intention. “If I had the opportunity to mostly spend my time eating and sleeping out in nature, that’s probably what I would do,” he said. 

Sloths can be found in the jungles of Central and South America, where they live primarily in trees and consume a diet of rough foliage, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They face threats from predators such as jaguars and harpy eagles, as well as human factors like deforestation and poaching.

Being named in absentia seems to be part of the Wellington Prize tradition, as neither Wilmes nor any previous winner has been present at the final faculty meeting of the year when the award is given. Earlier that week, Wilmes also won a Teaching and Innovation grant to develop a course on oral communication and basic programming, and a National Science Foundation grant to research machine learning, according to BrandeisNOW. 

Wilmes spoke about his experience at the first faculty meeting of the year on Sept. 13, consistent with the Wellington Prize guidelines. The next recipient of the award will be selected in May.