Phillip James E. Peebles was born in Winnipeg, Canada, Province of Manitoba, on April 25, 1935. Living in the tiny town of St. Vital and graduating in a high school class of 12, his interests in science were not tapped until his college days. Although planning to study engineering at the University of Manitoba, he encountered four inspirational physics professors who sparked a career in physics. He received his BS degree from the University in 1958 and moved next to Princeton University, intending to study particle physics.
Instead he became the only student of his influential mentor, Robert Dicke, to enter into theoretical physics. Under Dicke’s influence Peebles gradually moved from studies of gravity to astronomy and from astronomy to cosmology. Dicke also planted the original seed that inspired Peebles to look for the presence of background radiation in the universe. In 1965, as a result of Peebles’ post doctoral research, he and Dicke boldly predicted the existence of cosmic background radiation. In 1966 he began work on the theoretical calculations that would make cosmological studies an important topic for physicists. His book Physical Cosmology (1971) established the framework for a series of challenging new theoretical proposals that helped shape the field of cosmological studies. In 1984 Peebles was named Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University.
Peebles has written many influential and provocative articles in addition to his important books. His contributions have been recognized with honorary degrees from the University of Toronto, University of Chicago, McMaster University, University of Manitoba, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and the Université Catholique de Louvain. He has also received important awards, including the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1981) and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1998).
Professor Peebles and his wife, Alison, live in Princeton, New Jersey, where they share an interest in gardening and in exploring nature. Although he plans to retire from his faculty position at Princeton in the near future, he does not plan to discontinue his life long pursuit of understanding the nature of the cosmos.