Cox has been described as the natural successor for BBC's scientific programming by both David Attenborough and Patrick Moore. Before his academic career, Cox was a keyboard player for the bands D:Ream and Dare. He earns £250,000 - £299,999 as a BBC presenter
Cox was born on 3 March 1968 in the Royal Oldham Hospital, later living in Chadderton, Oldham, from 1971. His parents worked for Yorkshire Bank, his mother as a cashier and his father as a middle-manager in the same branch. He recalls a happy childhood in Oldham that included pursuits such as dance, gymnastics, plane spotting and even bus spotting. He attended the independent Hulme Grammar School in Oldham from 1979 to 1986. He has stated in many interviews and in an episode of Wonders of the Universe that when he was 12, the book Cosmos by Carl Sagan was a key factor in inspiring him to become a physicist. He said on The Jonathan Ross Show that he performed poorly on his maths A-level exam: "I got a D ... I was really not very good ... I found out you need to practise."
In the 1980s and early 90s, Cox was a keyboard player with the rock band Dare. Dare released two albums with Cox - Out of the Silence in 1988 and Blood from Stone in 1991. He joined D:Ream, a group that had several hits in the UK charts, including the number one "Things Can Only Get Better", later used as a New Labour election anthem, although he did not actually play on the track.
Cox studied physics at the University of Manchester during his music career. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree with first-class honours and a Master of Philosophy degree in physics. After D:Ream disbanded in 1997, he completed his Doctor of Philosophy degree in high-energy particle physics at the University of Manchester. His thesis, Double Diffraction Dissociation at Large Momentum Transfer, was supervised by Robin Marshall and based on research he did on the H1 experiment at the Hadron Elektron Ring Anlage (HERA) particle accelerator at the DESY laboratory in Hamburg, Germany.
Cox was a PPARC advanced fellow and member of the high energy physics group at the University of Manchester, and works on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland. He is working on the research and development project of the FP420 experiment in an international collaboration to upgrade the ATLAS and the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment by installing additional, smaller detectors at a distance of 420 metres from the interaction points of the main experiments.
Cox has co-authored several books on physics including Why does E=mc2? and The Quantum Universe, both with Jeff Forshaw. He has supervised or co-supervised several PhD students to completion.
Cox has appeared in many science programmes for BBC radio and television, including In Einstein's Shadow, the BBC Horizon series, ("The Six Billion Dollar Experiment", "What on Earth is Wrong with Gravity?", "Do You Know What Time It Is?", and "Can we Make a Star on Earth?") and as a voice-over for the BBC's Bitesize revision programmes. He presented the five-part BBC Two television series Wonders of the Solar System in early 2010 and a follow up four-part series, Wonders of the Universe, which began on 6 March 2011. Wonders of Life, which he describes as "a physicist's take on life/natural history", was broadcast in 2013.
He co-presents Space Hoppers and has also featured in Dani's House on CBBC.
Cox also presented a three-part BBC series called Science Britannica which sees him explore the contribution of British scientists over the last 350 years, as well as the relationship between British science and the public perception thereof.
BBC Two commissioned Cox to copresent Stargazing Live, a three-day live astronomy series in January 2011 – co-presented with physicist-turned-comedian Dara Ó Briain and featuring chat show host Jonathan Ross – linked to events across the United Kingdom. A second and a third series featuring a variety of guests ran in January 2012 and January 2013.
Since November 2009 Cox has co-presented a BBC Radio 4 "comedy science magazine programme", The Infinite Monkey Cage with comedian Robin Ince. Guests have included comedians Tim Minchin, Alexei Sayle, Dara Ó Briain, and scientists including Alice Roberts of the BBC show The Incredible Human Journey. Cox also appeared in Ince's Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People. He is a regular contributor to the BBC 6 Music Breakfast Show with Shaun Keaveny, with a weekly feature. He appeared on 24 July 2009 episode of Robert Llewellyn's CarPool podcast series.
Cox has also appeared numerous times at TED, giving talks on the LHC and particle physics. In 2009 he appeared in People magazine's Sexiest Men Alive. In 2010 he was featured in The Case for Mars by Symphony of Science. In November 2010 he made a promotional appearance in the Covent Garden Apple Store, talking about his new e-book set to accompany his new television series as well as answering audience questions.
Cox gave the Royal Television Society's 2010 Huw Wheldon Memorial Lecture on "Science, a Challenge to TV Orthodoxy", in which he examined problems in media coverage of science and news about science. It was subsequently broadcast on BBC Two. On 4 March, Frankenstein's Science featured Cox in discussion with biographer Richard Holmes on Mary Shelley's exploration of humanity's desire to bring life to an inanimate object and whether the notion is possible, in both the 19th century and today.
On 6 March 2011, Cox appeared as a guest at Patrick Moore's 700th episode anniversary of The Sky at Night. He has said that he is a lifelong fan of the programme, and that it helped inspire him to become a physicist. On 10 March 2011, he gave the Ninth Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture.
Cox was the science advisor for the science fiction film Sunshine. On the DVD release, he provides an audio commentary where he discusses scientific accuracies (and inaccuracies) depicted in the film. He also was featured on the Discovery Channel special Megaworld: Switzerland. In 2013, he presented another series of "Wonders of Life".
On 14 November 2013, BBC Two broadcast The Science of Doctor Who in celebration of Doctor Who's 50th anniversary, in which Cox tackles the mysteries of time travel. The lecture was recorded at the Royal Institution Faraday Lecture Theatre. The BBC subsequently broadcast Human Universe and Forces of Nature also presented by Cox.Session discographyDare – Out of the Silence (1988)Dare – Blood from Stone (1991)D:Ream – D:Ream on Volume 1 (1993)D:Ream – In Memory Of... (2011)Why Does E=mc²? (And Why Should We Care?) with Jeff Forshaw (2009)Wonders of the Solar System (with Andrew Cohen) (2010)Wonders of the Universe (with Andrew Cohen) (2011)The Quantum Universe (And Why Anything That Can Happen, Does) with Jeff Forshaw (2011)Wonders of Life: Exploring the Most Extraordinary Phenomenon in the Universe (with Andrew Cohen) (2013)Human Universe (with Andrew Cohen) (2014)Forces of Nature (with Andrew Cohen) (2016)Universal: A Guide to the Cosmos with Jeff Forshaw (2016)
Cox has received many awards for his efforts to publicise science. In 2002 he was elected an International Fellow of The Explorers Club and in 2006 he received the British Association's Lord Kelvin Award for this work. He held a prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellowship (an early-career Research Fellowship scheme) from 2006 to 2013.}} A frequent lecturer, he was keynote speaker at the Australian Science Festival in 2006, and in 2010 won the Institute of Physics Kelvin Prize for his work in communicating the appeal and excitement of physics to the general public. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's 2010 Birthday Honours for services to science. On 15 March 2011, he won Best Presenter and Best Science/Natural History programme by the Royal Television Society for Wonders of the Universe. On 25 March 2011, he won twice at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards for 'Best Performer' in a non-acting role, while Wonders of the Solar System was named best documentary series of 2010.
In July 2012, Cox was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Huddersfield. Later that year, he was awarded the Institute of Physics President's medal by Sir Patrick Stewart, following which he gave a speech on the value of education in science and the need to invest more in future generations of scientists. On 5 October 2012 Cox was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Open University for his "Exceptional contribution to Education and Culture". In 2012 he also was awarded the Michael Faraday Prize of the Royal Society "for his excellent work in science communication". He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2016.
In 2003 Cox married U.S. science presenter Gia Milinovich in Duluth, Minnesota. Their first son, named George, was born on 26 May 2009. George's middle name is "Eagle" after the Apollo 11 lunar module. Milinovich also has a son, named Moki, from a previous relationship. The family currently lives in Battersea. Cox rejects the label atheist but has stated he has "no personal faith". In 2009, he contributed to the charity book The Atheist's Guide to Christmas. He is a humanist, and is a "Distinguished Supporter" of the British Humanist Association. He is an Oldham Athletic fan, and held a season ticket at the club.