Robert V. Wagoner's scientific direction was established rather suddenly in 1960, when he attended a series of lectures on cosmology by the British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle. At the time, Wagoner was a mechanical engineering undergraduate at Cornell University, receiving his B.M.E. in 1961. Born and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey, his other major interest was golf, leading to a position on the Cornell team. He switched to physics while at Stanford University, receiving an M.S. in engineering science in 1962 and a Ph.D. in physics in 1965. He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, collaborating with William A. Fowler and Hoyle on the first complete calculation of the abundances of the elements produced in the primordial universe. After three years, he returned to Cornell as a faculty member in the astronomy department. Five years later, he returned to Stanford's physics department, where he is a professor of physics, emeritus and a member of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology.