Photo of Riccardo Giacconi

Riccardo Giacconi

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For his pioneering research in X-ray astronomy and for his leadership of major astronomy facilities.

Riccardo Giacconi on the excitement of research

For astrophysicist Riccardo Giacconi, from a young age academics and tumult often went hand in hand. He read voraciously to pass the time during bombing runs as a teenager in World War II-era Italy, and Giacconi always had a difficult time in school, often struggling with discipline.

It was not until he entered the University of Milan that Giacconi discovered work that he both loved and excelled at: research on the interactions of subatomic particles. This early research would lay the groundwork for his later breakthroughs in the field of X-ray astronomy, in which scientists measure celestial electromagnetism and make inferences about the nature of the universe.

After moving to the U.S. in 1956, Giacconi became instrumental in the construction and operation of the first space-based X-ray telescopes, leading to breakthroughs such as the discovery of the first black hole. He has also directed science operations for Hubble Space Telescope and helped launch NASA’s flagship X-ray telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory in 1999.

Giacconi’s work was essential to the field of astrophysics and because of his contributions to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002.

By Jeremy Gordon