Pagels studied at Princeton University ( BA ) and Stanford University, where he received his doctorate in 1965. From 1966 he was at the Rockefeller University, which he left in 1983 as an Associate Professor to executive director to be (Executive Director ) of the New York Academy of Sciences. He was also president of the International League for Human Rights, a member of the Council of Foreign Relations in New York.
Pagels worked primarily in the fields of quantum chromodynamics ( QCD, 1978, he wrote a widely read by Marciano review article about it), astro-particle physics and quantum field theory. Most recently, he also dealt with the theory of complex systems, the contents of his last book "Dreams of Reason". He has been known by several popular science books. In 1982 he was awarded for his book "The Cosmic Code. Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature " the Science Writing Award from the American Institute of Physics.
Pagels died while rock climbing at Pyramid Peak in Colorado at a Sunday outing with his doctoral student Seth Lloyd during his stay at the Center of Physics in Aspen. In his latest book, "Dreams of Reason " he reflected nor at the end about the dangers of mountaineering.
He was married to the theologian Elaine Pagels since 1969.
The asteroid ( 3807 ) Pagels was named after him.
- Collective model of the hadrons. In: Physical Review D. Volume 14, 1976, p 2747th
- Nonperturbative approach to QCD. In: Physical Review D. Volume 15, 1977, p 2991st
- Quantumchromodynamics. In: Physics Reports. Volume 36, 1978, p 137-276 ( with William J. Marciano ).
- Vacuum of the quantum Yang Mills theory and magneto- statics. In: Nuclear Physics B. Volume 143, 1978, p 485 (along with Terry E. Tomboulis ).
- Dynamical chiral symmetry breaking in QCD. In: Physical Review D. Volume 19, 1979, p 3080th
- Models of dynamically broken gauge theories. In: Physical Review D. Volume 21, 1980, p 2336th
- Complexity as Thermodynamic Depth. In: Annals of Physics. Volume 188, 1988, pp. 186-213. (along with Seth Lloyd).
- Cosmic code. Quantum physics as the language of nature ("The cosmis code" ). Ullsteinhaus, Frankfurt am Main 1983, ISBN 3-550-07723-8.
- The time before the time. The universe to the Big Bang ( "Perfect symmetry" ). Ullsteinhaus, Berlin, 1987, ISBN 3-550-07819-6.
- The Dreams of Reason. The Computer and the Rise of the Sciences of Complexity. Bantam Books, New York, 1989, ISBN 0-553-34710-1.