Technology & Science

Manitoba-born James Peebles, 2 others awarded Nobel Prize in Physics

The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Manitoba-born James Peebles “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology,” and to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.”

Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, of the University of Geneva, win other half of award

Canadian-born scientist James Peebles, who won a share of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday, speaks at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., in this April 2018 photo. (Princeton University/Reuters)

The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Manitoba-born James Peebles "for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology," and to Swiss colleagues Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz "for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star."

The Nobel Prize's official Twitter feed said 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."

Peebles was born in Winnipeg in 1935 and completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba. He earned a PhD from Princeton University in New Jersey in 1962. Currently at Princeton, he's the Albert Einstein Professor of Science.

 Peebles said Tuesday during a news conference that the awards and prizes are "very much appreciated," but that's not why young people should study the sciences.

"You should enter it for the love of the science," he said. "You should enter science because you are fascinated by it. That's what I did."

A string of Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto, McMaster University in Hamilton and most recently the University of British Columbia, have awarded honorary doctorates to Peebles. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and an Order of Manitoba recipient.

Princeton University president Christopher Eisgruber called Peebles an "extraordinary" physicist. 

"During my own time as a physics major, he was a popular teacher and a fixture in the undergraduate program, and I am among the many students who benefited from his superb instruction," Eisgruber said in statement from the university.

Peebles wins half the 9-million Swedish kronor ($1.2-million Cdn) prize. Mayor and Queloz, both of the University of Geneva, with Queloz also with the University of Cambridge in the U.K., jointly win the other half.

A news release says that in October 1995, Mayor and Queloz announced the first discovery of a planet outside our solar system, "an exoplanet, orbiting a solar-type star in our home galaxy, the Milky Way." At the Haute-Provence Observatory in southern France, by using custom-made instruments, "they were able to see planet 51 Pegasi b, a gaseous ball comparable with the solar system's biggest gas giant, Jupiter."

This discovery started a revolution in astronomy and over 4,000 exoplanets have since been found in the Milky Way. 

The prize also comes with a gold medal and a diploma. The laureates will receive them at a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of prize founder Alfred Nobel in 1896, together with five other Nobel winners. The sixth one, the Nobel Peace Prize, will be handed out in Oslo, Norway, on the same day.

This was the 113th Nobel Prize in Physics awarded since 1901, of which 47 awards have been given to a single laureate. Only three women have been awarded it so far: Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018, according to the Nobel website.

On Monday, Americans William G. Kaelin Jr. and Gregg L. Semenza, and Britain's Peter J. Ratcliffe won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for discovering details of how the body's cells sense and react to low oxygen levels, providing a foothold for developing new treatments for anemia, cancer and other diseases.

Nobel, a Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite, decided the physics, chemistry, medicine and literature prizes should be awarded in Stockholm, and the peace prize in Oslo.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be announced Wednesday, two Nobel Prize in Literature awards will be announced on Thursday, and the Nobel Peace Prize comes Friday. This year will see two literature prizes handed out because the one last year was suspended after a scandal rocked the Swedish Academy

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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