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Denise Applewhite / Office of Communications

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, University Albert Einstein Professor Emeritus of Science James Peebles GS ’62 was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics "for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology.”

Peebles shares the 2019 prize with two other physicists, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. Peebles has been awarded half of the prize, while Mayor and Queloz will share the other half. 

Peebles joins a number of University faculty and alumni who have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

He has also published a number of books considered “classics” in his field, according to the Office of Communications. His upcoming book, “Cosmology’s Century, An Inside History of Our Modern Understanding of the Universe,” will come out in June 2020 from Princeton University Press.

Peebles was born in Manitoba, Canada, in 1935 and received his B.S. from University of Manitoba in 1958. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in physics from the University in 1962, where he quickly became an instructor, and would continue to teach at the University for his entire career. He transferred to emeritus status in 2000. 

In the afternoon of Oct. 8, the University held a press conference and reception to celebrate Professor Peebles and his achievements. Professor Peebles was joined on stage by University President Christopher Eisgruber, University Spokesperson Ben Chang, and Professor Herman Verlinde, the chair of the Department of Physics. 

Friends and colleagues of Professor Peebles, as well as University students gathered before the conference to meet with Professor Peebles and congratulate him on his achievement. Bryan To ’22, a prospective physics major, introduced himself to the Peebles and asked for a photo with him. To remarked that Peebles, both when he met him and in his interviews, was always “so kind, so humble and gracious.” 

During the conference, Peebles spoke about his work and about his surprise of being awarded the Nobel. When he received a standing ovation from the audience, the first of two during the conference, Peebles said, “I don’t think you can imagine how good this makes me feel.” 

Peebles also answered questions from the press and the audience. When asked about what he would like to see studied and discovered next, he responded that he would like to see the research and study of dark matter. He said that he believes that the discovery will be a process, but that “it will show up.” 

Peebles also shared advice for students in physics, reminding them not to focus on winning prizes but rather the joy of researching and the love of science. 

“Judge yourself by how well you’ve done,” Peebles said.

Peebles also shared his plans for the prize money, stating the some will go to charity, some to his children and family, and that he also plans to donate some to the University of Manitoba for its support while he was an undergraduate and afterwards. 

Eisgruber also remarked on Peebles’s legacy as a graduate and professor at University, going on to call him a “teacher, mentor, colleague and friend.” He also stated that despite receiving emeritus status, Peebles still continues to contribute to research as well as occasionally teach lectures with his colleagues. Eisgruber also spoke about his time as Peebles’s student while he was an undergraduate at the University. 

Verlinde also shared stories of Peebles, and remarked that when many Nobel Laureates are announced, all of the universities that they had attended and worked at will try to claim them, but in Peebles’s case, only two universities may claim him: the University of Manitoba and Princeton. 

After the conference, Peebles joined his colleagues and the audience for champagne, snacks, and desserts in the Rockefeller College common room to celebrate the occasion. 

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