Martin Rees was born in 1942, and grew up in Shropshire, a rural part of England. He studied mathematics at Trinity College Cambridge, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in 1964. Subsequently, he became a graduate student at Cambridge, working under the supervision of Dennis Sciama.
This was the time when the first firm evidence for the "big bang" was emerging, and when the discovery of quasars, pulsars and cosmic x-ray sources were opening up the new field of "relativistic astrophysics".
His insightful and original contributions quickly made an impact. Over his 35-year career, he has maintained high productivity over a broad scientific field. Many of his ideas — on topics including cosmic radio sources, black holes, galaxy formation and gamma ray bursts — have been vindicated by later observations.
In 1973 he was appointed Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge. He held this post for 18 years and for 10 of those years was also Director of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy. In 1992 he was appointed to a Royal Society Research Professorship, which he still holds. At that time, he also became President of the Royal Astronomical Society and in 1995 he acquired the honorary title of Astronomer Royal.
Cambridge remains his base, where he continues to teach and to be involved in various aspects of the University. He is a Senior Fellow of King's College, and Honorary Fellow of Trinity and Jesus Colleges.
He has held several visiting professorships, and given many special lectures in Europe, the U.S. and Japan. He holds honorary degrees from ten universities.
He has always been an enthusiast for international collaboration in science, and has fostered this not only by his individual efforts but through membership of numerous advisory bodies and committees, especially in Europe. He was chairman of the European Space Agency's Scientific Advisory Committee when the decision was taken to collaborate with NASA on "Ulysses"' and the Hubble Space Telescope.
He has for many years been active in the British Association for the Advancement of Science and has served as its president (1994-95). He has broad cultural interests beyond science, serving, for instance, on the Board of Trustees of the British Museum, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Humanities (U.K.), and the Kennedy Memorial Trust (U.K.).
He has written five books in the last five years: New Perspectives in Astrophysical Cosmology, Gravity's Fatal Attraction: Black Holes in the Universe, co-authored with Mitchell Begelman, Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others, and Just Six Numbers. His latest book, Our Cosmic Habitat, will be published in October 2001.