Princeton Strong news – Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Office of Communications Tom Garlinghouse reports 10.08.2019

Early in the morning on Tuesday, Oct. 8, Princeton physicist James Peebles got a call from Sweden. His first thought was, “When you receive a phone call that early in the morning, it’s usually something horrible — or it’s this!”

The “this” turned out to be the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics. Peebles, the Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus, and professor of physics, emeritus, had won the prize for “theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology.”

Peebles, who received his doctorate in physics from Princeton in 1962, shares the prize with Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and the University of Cambridge. The prize amount is 9 million Swedish kroner, or about $908,280, with Peebles receiving half of the award. 

“James Peebles’ insights into physical cosmology,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said, “have enriched the entire field of research and laid a foundation for the transformation of cosmology over the last 50 years, from speculation to science. His theoretical framework, developed since the mid-1960s, is the basis of our contemporary ideas about the universe.”

Physical cosmology is the branch of physics and astrophysics that deals with the study of the physical origins, evolution and structure of the universe. It’s the branch that asks and tries to answer some of physics’ biggest questions — how did the universe begin? What is it composed of? Will the universe have an end? What is its eventual fate? These are the questions Peebles has grappled with throughout his career at Princeton, from the early 1960s through to his transfer to emeritus status in 2000.

Kip Thorne, a 1965 graduate alumnus in physics who won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics and is the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology, said: “Jim’s Nobel Prize is so wonderfully deserved! When I was a grad student I watched in awe as he scoped out the creation of elements by nuclear burning in our universe’s first three minutes. He was an inspiration to me and has remained so throughout my career.”

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