Canadian-born scientist James Peebles wins 2019 Nobel Prize in physics
Published Tuesday, October 8, 2019 3:46AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 8, 2019 6:56PM EDT
TORONTO – Canadian-born James Peebles is one of three scientists to receive the 2019 Nobel Prize in physics for “contributions to our understanding of the evolution of our universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos.”
Peebles, the Albert Einstein Professor of Science and professor of physics at Princeton University in New Jersey, won the award "for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology."
Born in St. Boniface, Man. in 1935, Peebles completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba before moving to Princeton for graduate school.
“This year’s prize goes to contributions to our understanding of the evolution of our universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos,” Göran K. Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said October 8.
“James Peebles took on the cosmos, with its billions of galaxies and galaxy clusters. His theoretical framework, developed over two decades, is the foundation of our modern understanding of the universe’s history, from the Big Bang to the present day,” the academy said.
Peebles shares the 9 million kronor (CA$1.2 million) cash prize with Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and Didier Queloz of the Universities of Geneva and Cambridge "for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star." An exoplanet is a planet outside our solar system, several of which have been observed orbiting stars similar to the sun.
“This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics rewards new understanding of the universe’s structure and history, and the first discovery of a planet orbiting a solar-type star outside our solar system,” tweeted the Nobel committee.
“The discoveries have forever changed our conceptions of the world.”
Peebles is credited for being ahead of the curve when he first started working in this subject.
“He developed the tools and did much of the work from the early days in the ‘60s when this was hardly a serious field,” Lee Smolin, physics professor at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, told CTV News Channel.
Smolin added that “people wanted a picture where the universe was static,” but Peebles saw things differently.
Asked at the Nobel news conference what Peebles would tell young scientists, he said "you should enter it for the love of science. You should enter science because you are fascinated by it," The Canadian Press reports.
“When I started working in this subject — I can tell you the date, 1964 — at the invitation of my mentor, Professor Robert Henry Dicke, I was very uneasy about going into this subject because the experimental observational basis was so modest. ... I just kept going,” Peebles said during the Nobel news conference by phone.
“Which particular step did I take? I would be very hard-pressed to say. It’s a life’s work.”
The father-of-three, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, says in his biography for Princeton that he has a "preference for underappreciated issues" in physical cosmology, including the study of isolated galaxies.
"They are not uncommon, despite the great advances from the small science I encountered a half century ago to today's big science," he writes in his bio.
"What might we learn from lines of research that are off the beaten track? They check accepted ideas, always a good thing, and there is the chance nature has prepared yet another surprise for us."
Last year, another Canadian physicist, Donna Strickland, won the Nobel Prize in physics for her work on “chirped pulse amplification.”
The professor from Guelph, Ont., who works at the University of Waterloo, was the first Canadian and third woman in history to receive the prize.
The paper that won Strickland the prize was written with her PhD supervisor, Gerard Mourou, in 1985. They developed a way to increase laser beam intensity which has since been applied to everything from laser eye surgery to creating tiny glass parts for cellphones.
This year’s Nobel winners will receive a gold medal and a diploma at a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10.
-- With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press and CNN