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“Lighting up the darkness with reason and understanding seems to me incompatible with irrationality and prejudice.” – Ricardo Giacconi
Sometimes difficult to deal with, even his friends acknowledged, Dr. Giacconi insisted on “ruthless intellectual honesty,” said Garth Illingworth, who was his deputy at the Space Telescope Institute. Dr. Giacconi expected and demanded that his colleagues challenge him strenuously before arriving at a consensus on an issue.
Riccardo Giacconi, an astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize for pioneering the study of the universe through the X-rays emitted by the most violent actors in the cosmos, including black holes, exploding stars and galumphing clouds of galaxies, died on Sunday, in the La Jolla section of San Diego. He was 87.
The National Academy of Sciences, of which he was a member, announced his death…
“Dr. Giacconi was one of the great captains of Big Science, leaving lasting imprints on major astronomical institutions like the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which runs the Hubble Space Telescope, and the European Southern Observatory in Germany, where he oversaw the building of the largest telescope on Earth. He helped set the pattern for how large scientific projects are run today.”
“If you need to do something big, Riccardo was up to the task,” Robert Kirshner, an astronomer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, Calif., said by email. Ticking off the observatories Dr. Giacconi directed, Dr. Kirshner called them the “great tools of discovery in the 20th (and 21st) century.”
Dr. Giacconi was awarded a half share of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002. (The other half was shared by the astrophysicists Raymond Davis Jr., an American, and Masatoshi Koshiba, of Japan.)
ALWAYS PROMOTING WOMEN SCIENTISTS
He was also a promoted women in astronomy, appointing women to key positions when he ran the Space Telescope institute. “Riccardo made a point of asking, in faculty meetings, which applicants were women,” the Yale astronomer Meg Urry said.
On his watch the first conference on ‘Women in Astronomy’ was held. In his opening remarks at the event, Dr. Giacconi said he had been surprised at how hard it was for women to improve their status in the field – a field they were more than 50% responsible for advancing (think the H-R diagram; RR Lyræ stars as lighthouses in the local group of galaxies) – and promised, “to make things better.”