William Unruh was born in Winnepeg, Canada, and received his Phd at Princeton in 1971 under John Wheeler (also the advisor of Richard Feyman and Kip Thorne). He has for a long time been a Professor in the Dept of Physics and Astronomy at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He was also the founding director of the Cosmology and Gravity program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

Unruh’s main research work is in quantum gravity. In trying to understand the quantum mechanics of black holes, Unruh discovered what is now called the Unruh effect (viz., that an accelerated detector in the vacuum sees a thermal bath, instead of seeing nothing) and the existence of the Unruh vacuum around black holes. His work has focussed on the overlap between quantum mechanics and gravity, leading to work on the nature and measurement of time, the study of non-locality in quantum mechanics, the quantum origin of matter in early cosmology, the impact of quantum mechanics on the detectors of gravitational waves, and many other effects in the same general area. He has also worked on decoherence in quantum computation.

Bill Unruh is a Fellow of the Royal Society, of the American Physical Society, and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.