Simon White was born in 1951 in Ashford, Kent, England, where his earliest education took place in a rural, one-room schoolhouse. He earned a degree in Mathematics from Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1972, a Master’s degree in Astronomy from the University of Toronto in 1974, and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from Cambridge in 1977.
In the 1980s, White was part of a collaboration—with Marc Davis, George Efstathiou, and Carlos Frenk—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 simulations to recreate the growth of structure in the universe and resolve disputes among theoretical models.
White was a Lindemann Fellow in the Department of Astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley in 1977-78 and a research fellow at Cambridge from 1978 to 1980. He next served as a senior fellow at the Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley from 1980 to 1984, then served on the astronomy faculty at the University of Arizona from 1984 to 1991. During this period White was also a member of the Institute for Advanced Physics at Princeton University (1982), the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara (1984), and the Institute for Advanced Study in Jerusalem (1990). From 1992 to 1994 he was the director of the European Association for Research in Astronomy. Since 1994 he has served as a director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany,
White has continued working on computer simulations of large-scale structure in the universe, most notably the Millennium Simulation, a model which followed the dark matter and the formation of 20 million galaxies in a cubic region of the universe over 2 billion light-years on a side.
White was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1997, of the German National Academy, Leopoldina in 2005, and Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2007. He has received the Helen B. Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society, the Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics from the American Institute of Physics and the American Astronomical Society, and a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, among numerous other prizes and awards.