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Margherita Hack
Photo: Cirone-Musi

Margherita Hack, born in Florence on the 12th of June 1922, was one of Italy’s famous astrophysicists, making great strides for Italian science.

Her parents were accomplished themselves. Her father, Roberto Hack, was a Florentine bookkeeper and her mother was a graduate of the Accademia de Belle Arti de Firenze and worked as a miniaturist at the Uffizi gallery.

Hack had an active childhood, taking up basketball in her teams and competing in numerous track and field events while at university. She won several national prizes in the sport, in the high and long jump events. In addition to this, she excelled in her studies and graduated with a degree in physics from the University of Florence, with an exam score of 101/110. Her University thesis was about Cepheid variables, based on her experience in the Arcetri Laboratory, under the guidance of Giorgio Abetti.

When she was 22, Hack married one of her childhood friends, Aldo De Rosa in the church of San Leonardo in Arcetri. After graduating from University, she become a full professor of astronomy at the University of Trieste in 1964. She was the first Italian Woman to administrate the Trieste Astronomical Observatory, and as such, was brought to fame.

Hack was also a member of many organisations, including the Academia Nazionale de Lincei, the European Space Association, and NASA. She published several papers in international journals and many books of popular science. She founded the magazine L’Astromia in 1978, and, working with Corrado Lamberti, directed another astronomy magazine known as Le Stelle.

In 1994, Hack received the Targa Giuseppe Piazzi award for her research, but she wasn’t only known for her activities in science. Hack was also very active in social and political fields. As a strong atheist, Hack believed that ethics did not originate from religion, but ‘principles of conscience’ which allowed everyone to respect others’ individuality and freedom, without the need for a God.

Hack stood for the Italian Regional elections in 2005, obtaining 5,000 votes, but gave her seat to Bebo Storti. Additionally, she was nominated for Chamber of Deputies in several districts, but gave up these roles in order to devote herself to science.

P>Outside of the political sphere, Hack was a proud vegetarian and strong supporter of animal welfare. She wrote a book explaining her choices, Perche Sono Vegetariana (Why I am a Vegetarian), and has also written a book about her life, called La mia vita in Bicicleta (My life on a bicycle).

Hack passed away on 29th June 2013 in Trieste after heart complications. Her husband died just a year later, in 2014, from Alzheimer’s disease. They are buried together in the Sant’Anna cemetery in Trieste.

Hack is a celebrated figure worldwide to this day. On her 99th birthday, Google dedicated a Doodle to her. Then, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth, a statue of Hack was unveiled before the Universita Statale di Milano. It is the first statue of a female scientist in Italy to be on public ground.

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