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Phil Armitage was born in 1971 just outside of London in Sevenoaks, Kent, England. He was keen on astronomy early in life. As an elementary school student, he kept abreast of extensive press coverage of the Voyager I spacecraft’s flight past Jupiter and Saturn during 1979 and 1980. To encourage his passion for astronomy, Armitage’s parents bought him a six-inch reflecting telescope. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see anything with it except the moon because the sky wasn’t very dark near London.
In high school, Armitage discovered a new passion for physics and engineering. At Cambridge University, he studied physics and theoretical physics, earning a B. A. in both subjects in 1993. At the end of his undergraduate studies, he applied to Ph. D. programs in both astrophysics and theoretical physics. In the end, he opted to study with Cathie Clark at Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. There he earned a doctorate in 1996 for a study of accretion disks around young stars.
Armitage says it’s sometimes difficult to explain the twists and turns of his early career. “My brother is a computer animator who works on the Harry Potter movies,” he says. “His profession is much easier to make clear to other people than all the different aspects of science that appeal to me.” Nevertheless, once Armitage settled on theoretical astrophysics as his field of study, he embarked on a fairly straightforward career path.
His next stop was a postdoctoral appointment at the Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Toronto (1996–1999). At Toronto, he continued his studies of accretion disks and began studies of planet formation. Next, he spent another postdoctoral year at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Munich.
In 2000, he signed on as an assistant professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. During a visit to Colorado that year, Fellow Dick McCray suggested that he apply for an open position in CU’s Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS). “I’d already visited Colorado on a number of occasions, so I was more than willing to oblige,” Armitage says. “I was already keen on hiking and nature photography, so Colorado seemed like an ideal place to be.”
Armitage was hired as an assistant professor of APS and Associate Fellow of JILA in 2002. He has continued his research on accretion disks, currently focusing on the formation and evolution of extrasolar planetary systems. He has also begun working on the astrophysics of black holes, including black-hole mergers. He frequently collaborates with Fellow Mitch Begelman on investigations of supermassive black holes.
In his spare time, Armitage explores the wild lands of North America, fulfilling his passions for hiking and landscape photography. He documents these journeys with photographs, videos, and lyrical descriptions of his explorations. Armitage is also a dedicated runner and triathlete.