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News Release 32 of 37

February 16, 2005 09:00 AM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-2005-14

Founding Hubble Institute Director to Receive National Medal of Science

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Founding Hubble Institute Director to Receive National Medal of ScienceView this image

Dr. Riccardo Giacconi, founding director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), will receive the 2003 National Medal of Science -- the United States' top scientific recognition -- for his work in X-ray astronomy and his outstanding leadership in the development of the STScI. The White House announced the list of recipients on February 14. Giacconi and the others will receive their medals in a White House ceremony on Monday, March 14.

Dr. Giacconi was appointed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) as the first Director of the STScI in September 1981. Under his leadership, the STScI developed the expertise and capabilities to direct the science mission of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

Located on the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Homewood campus in Baltimore, Md., the STScI has a staff of over 350 scientists, engineers, and support staff who develop and operate the systems needed to manage Hubble's complex science program and keep up with the massive stream of returning science data.

During the brief two years between the launch and the conclusion of Dr. Giacconi's directorship of STScI, Hubble made 100 separate discoveries, as measured by refereed scientific papers appearing in journals. It is a tribute to the organization which he established that, in the decade since his departure, that total has continued to rise every year, and now exceeds 4,700 in total. In 2004 alone, Hubble provided over 600 new discoveries, the largest annual total thus far in its nearly 15-year lifetime.

Co-recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in physics, Giacconi is considered the "father of X-ray astronomy." His research opened a new window on scientific understanding of the universe, from its evolution to its component black holes, neutron stars, galaxy clusters and quasars.

Giacconi was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1931, but spent most of his life prior to 1956 in Milan. He earned a doctorate in physics from the University of Milan in 1954, and was an assistant professor there until he left for the United Sates in 1956. After two years at Indiana University and a year at Princeton University, Giacconi joined American Science and Engineering, Inc. (AS&E) in Cambridge, Mass.

Throughout the 1960s and 197Os, Giacconi led the group of scientists at the AS&E which was the first to make astronomical observations using the X-ray portion of the spectrum, thereby establishing X-ray astronomy as a significant field of astrophysical research. He obtained the first X-ray picture of the Sun in 1963.

In 1970, the UHURU satellite, conceived by Giacconi and developed under his direction, became the first orbiting X-ray observatory. UHURU provided the first X-ray map of the heavens and identified the diffuse X-ray background.

In 1973, Giacconi joined the faculty of Harvard University and became an Associate Director for the Center for Astrophysics, High Energy Astrophysics Division. He served as principal investigator during the concept, design, and fabrication of the Einstein Observatory.

In 1976, Giacconi initiated the study and design of a large X-ray telescope. Work began in 1977 on the program, then known as the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility, and in 1998 renamed as the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

From 1981 to 1997, he was a professor in physics and astronomy at JHU. Upon leaving the STScI in 1993, Giacconi began a five-year appointment as Director General of the European Southern Observatory (ES0) in Garching, Germany. He became a JHU research professor in 1998 and maintained his personal research program at Johns Hopkins when he became president of Associated Universities Inc. (AUI), the consortium that co-administers the National Radio Astronomy Observatory with the National Science Foundation. He retired from AUI late last year, and was named University Professor at JHU in October 2004.

The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959 as a Presidential Award to be given to individuals "deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contribuitons to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences." In 1980 Congress expanded this recognition to include the social and behavioral sciences. The National Medal of Science is administered by the National Science Foundation.


Cheryl Gundy
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
(Phone: 410-338-4707; E-mail: