James Binney is a theoretical astrophysicist who has worked principally on the structure and evolution of galaxies. He has built dynamical model of galaxies both to track intrinsically invisible components (black holes and dark matter) and to understand how galaxies function as machines and were assembled. He was born in London, was an undergraduate in Cambridge and a graduate student in Freiburg (Germany) and Oxford. After graduation, he took a Lindemann Fellowship to Princeton, returned to Oxford as a Junior Research Fellow of Magdalen College and then spent two years as a Visiting Assistant Professor in Princeton. In 1981 he joined Oxford’s Physics faculty, where he has remained apart from sabbatical visits, to, inter alia, Caltech, University of Arizona, University of Virginia and the IAS, Princeton. He was President of Division VII of the International Astronomical Union 1994-7 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Astronomical Society and Merton College, Oxford. He is co-author of graduate texts on galaxies and critical phenomena, and of undergraduate text on quantum mechanics. He wrote “A Very Short Introduction to Astrophysics.”

Research Interests

James Binney with collaborators has focused on extracting scientific understanding from observations of galaxies and the gas within and around them. Galaxies are complex machines and the approach taken has been to build simple models that focus on particular aspects of their dynamics and evolution. Early work led to the prediction that elliptical galaxies are not necessarily flattened by rotation, and can be triaxial, and proposed a connection between atomic physics and the characteristic length and mass scales of galaxies. This led to models of the diffuse gas content of clusters of galaxies, and the pioneering of the view that this gas is kept hot by jets shot out by supermassive black holes. Models of hot gas around galaxies like ours led to a picture in which galactic fountains powered by supernovae sustain star formation in many galaxies by cooling circumgalactic gas. Modelling cold gas in our Galaxy led to the conclusion that our Galaxy is barred. Techniques were developed to bring the power of angle-action variables to bear on galactic dynamics. They yielded new chemo-dynamical models of galaxies that are currently being fitted to data from the Gaia satellite and large ground-based surveys of our Galaxy.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 12: Astronomy