Sidney van den Bergh was born in Wassenaar, Holland, in 1929. He received a Bachelor of Arts in physics from Princeton University in 1950, a Master’s Degree in physics from Ohio State University in 1952, and a Doctorate in astronomy from the University of Göttingen in 1956.
Van den Bergh taught at Ohio State University from 1956 to 1958. He spent the next twenty years as a professor of astronomy at the University of Toronto, with the exception of one year he worked as a research associate at the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories. He was the director of the Dominion Astrophysics Observatory in Victoria, British Columbia, from 1978 to 1986 and its principal research officer from 1986 to 1998. Since 1999 he has held the position of researcher emeritus at the National Research Council of Canada.
Van den Bergh was one of the pioneers of a branch of astronomy now called Near Field Cosmology. By looking at the nearby universe for clues, he and the fellow practitioners of the field have made significant contributions to our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies and of the universe itself, with its weblike pattern of filaments of clusters and superclusters separated by vast voids of empty space. Their growth on all scales is highly dependent on the gravitational influence of dark matter.
Van den Bergh’s research has proven pivotal in a wide range of topics, including the extragalactic distance scale, the stability of galaxy clusters, and the dominant role of dark matter in the formation and evolution of individual galaxies as well as the large-scale structure of the universe.
Van den Bergh was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1988. In 1995 he received the Order of Canada, and in 2011 he was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame. He has served as President of the Canadian Astronomical Society and as Vice-President of the International Astronomical Union. Among many other honors, van den Bergh received the 2008 Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, an award that recognizes outstanding lifetime contributions to astronomy.