The Sciences

James Peebles, Didier Queloz and Michael Mayor Win 2019 Physics Nobel Prize

When asked if he had expected to win the prize, Peebles said that it wasn't something he had planned for.

The 2019 Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded to James Peebles, Michael Mayor and Didier Queloz “contributions to understanding the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos”.

Peebles, who takes half of the prize, “has been decorated for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology”. According to a presentation at the press conference, “he developed theoretical tools to uncover the universe’s dark components” and that, “with his help, cosmology evolved into a science of precision and matured into physical cosmology.”

Mayor and Queloz have been cited “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a (extrasolar) Sun-like star”. This planet is designated 51 Pegasi b, orbiting the star 51 Pegasi about 50 lightyears away. To quote an older report on The Wire:

At the time, Michael Mayor and Didier Queloz detected the planet by studying how it was making its host star wobble – using changes in the measurement of the star’s radiation as a proxy.

Peebles has made significant contributions to cosmologists’ understanding of the Big Bang event at its dawn, followed by contributions to theories of dark energy and dark matter. When he won the Shaw Prize in 2004, his citation stated that “he laid the foundations for almost all modern investigations in cosmology, both theoretical and observational, transforming a highly speculative field into a precision science.”

Mayor and Queloz are Swiss and Peebles is Canadian-American. When asked if he had expected to win the prize, Peebles said over the telephone at the conference that it wasn’t something he had planned for. “Prizes are charming, much appreciated, but that’s not part of your plans,” he added, referring to aspiring scientists. “You should enter science because you’re fascinated by it.”

Thus far, 212 people have won the physics prize, including this year’s winners. Of these, only three have been women: Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018. None of these women won the whole prize but had to share it with two men.