Matias Zaldarriaga was born in 1971 in Buenos Aires. His mother is a lawyer and his father had studied engineering, though he did not finish college. Zaldarriaga’s introduction to science came through the Carl Sagan book and television series Cosmos. He also found inspiration from his high school teachers, including one who was a nuclear physicist at the Argentinian Nuclear Atomic Commission—his first encounter with a scientist.
Zaldarriaga received his Licenciado en Ciencias Fisicas from the University of Buenos Aires in 1994 and, four year later, his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His academic positions have included appointments at New York University, Harvard University, and, since 2009, the Institute for Advanced Study, where he holds the title of the Richard Black Professor of Astrophysics.
His numerous honors include a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006, the Helen B. Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society in 2003, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Sloan Fellowship in 2004, and the Gribov Medal of the European Physical Society in 2005. In 2018 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.