Marc Davis was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1955. He earned a degree in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969, then, at Princeton, a Master’s degree in Physics in 1971 and a Ph.D. in Physics in 1973.
In the 1980s, Davis was part of a collaboration—with George Efstathiou, Carlos Frenk, and Simon White—that established the validity of the "cold dark matter" theory for the formation of galaxies and other cosmic structures, now the accepted interpretation in cosmology. In a classic series of papers, that collaboration—often called DEFW by their peers—used computer code to simulate the growth of the universe and resolve disputes among theoretical models.
Davis taught for a year at Princeton, 1973-74, then served on the Astronomy faculty at Harvard from 1975 to 1981. Since 1981 he has been on the faculty of the Department of Astronomy and Physics at the University of California at Berkeley.
Davis led the CfA (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) galaxy survey, which inspired the DEFW collaboration. He has also helped organize and run an all-sky model of dust distribution in the Milky Way galaxy as well as the DEEP (Deep Extragalactic Evolutionary Probe) survey of 50,000 distant galaxies, conducted on the two ten-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii.
Davis was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1991 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992. He has also been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society, and he has received the Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics from the American Institute of Physics and the American Astronomical Society, among numerous other prizes and awards. While working on the DEEP survey, Davis suffered a stroke that has left him partially paralyzed, though he continues to enjoy one of the main passions in his life, skiing.