Gioacchino Failla, a pioneer in both biophysics and radiobiology, began his career at New York's Memorial Hospital in 1915. Within a few years, he had established the first research program devoted to improving the medical applications of radiation. One of the initial products of this research was the construction of the first radon generator in the United States. In 1921, Failla suggested that radiation doses be expressed as the amount of radiation energy absorbed and made the first dose estimates in radium therapy in terms of microcalories/cc of tissue. With the arrival of an X-ray unit in his laboratory the following year, Failla constructed the first human phantom in the U.S. to determine the effects of filtration and distance on X-ray fields in the human body. In 1925, upon returning from a one-year sabbatical with Madam Marie Curie in Paris, Failla published protocols and described equipment permitting radiotherapists to deliver the desired doses to their patients accurately. Failla had prominent roles in founding the International Commission on Radiation Units and Measurements (ICRU) and the Radiation Research Society, whom he served as President. In 1944, Failla left Memorial Hospital for Columbia University where he made important contributions to our understanding of radiation mutagenesis and the induction of cancer by radiation until his untimely death in a car accident while visiting Chicago in 1961.
During his long and distinguished career, Dr. Failla was awarded The Leonard Prize of the American Roentgen Ray Society, the Janeway Medal of the American Radium Society, The Caldwell Medal of the American Roentgen Ray Society, The Gold Medal of the Radiological Society of North America, The Ewing Society
Medal, the American Cancer Society Annual National Award, and the Judd Cancer Award. He received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Rochester.
Born in Sicily in 1891, he arrived in New York City at 15 years old and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. He received a Pulitzer Scholarship from Columbia University, where he graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1915 and a M.A. Degree in Physics two years later. He received his doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris in 1923. During WWI, he served as assistant to the scientific attache of the American Embassy in Rome. At Memorial Hospital in New York City, he was attending Physicist and Director of the Physics and Biophysics Laboratory for Radiation Research. Upon relocating to Columbia University in 1942, he was appointed Professor of Radiology (in Physics) and Director of the Radiological Research Laboratory at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. After mandatory retirement from Columbia in 1960 he received an appointment as Senior Scientist Emeritus in the Radiological Physics Division of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.