Photo of Richard J. Gambino

Richard J. Gambino

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Computer Science

For the discovery and development of a new class of materials-the amorphous magnetic materials-that are the basis of erasable, read-write, optical storage technology, now the foundation of the worldwide magnetic-optic disk industry.

When Richard Gambino and two fellow IBM scientists discovered a combination of elements that possessed unusual magnetic and optical properties, their first inclination was to think the discovery would apply to computer hard drives.

They didn’t know at the time, in 1972, that their discovery would lead to the rewritable disk, which would spawn a $2 billion industry.

Gambino, along with scientists Praveen Chaudhari and Jerome Cuomo, had been chasing Bell Labs in a race to develop greater computer storage. It was Gambino, according to an IBM history, who combined the rare earth element gadolinium with cobalt, a key move in the trio’s quest.

That pushed the group ever closer to its prize, but it would take several more years of research and problem solving before IBM would introduce the 3.5-inch rewritable optical disk to the market in 1991.

Gambino, who held a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from the University of Connecticut and a masters from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, was awarded 45 patents and received numerous awards over his career. He left IBM in 1993 and became a professor at Stony Brook University in New York.

By Robert Warren