Rubbia was born in the small town of Gorizia, Italy. After high school, he studied in the Faculty of Physics at the Scuola Normale in Pisa where he completed a thesis about cosmic ray experiments. In 1958, he went to the United States to widen his experience and to familiarize himself with particle accelerators.
Around 1960, he moved back to Europe, attracted by the newly founded CERN where he worked on experiments on the structure of weak interactions. He was appointed professor of physics at Harvard University in 1970, but continued to travel to Europe frequently to work at CERN. In 1976, he suggested adapting CERN's Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) to collide protons and antiprotons in the same ring and the world's first antiproton factory was built. The collider started running in 1981 and, in January 1983, came the announcement, first from the UA1 detector, that W particles had been created. A couple of months later the even more elusive Z particles were also observed.
Rubbia has also invented a unique concept for a new type of a nuclear energy reactor called the energy amplifier. This inherently safe design concept combines a particle accelerator with a subcritical nuclear reactor which can make use of the abundant element Thorium as fuel and is essentially meltdown-proof. Moreover, the waste it produces is dangerous for a much shorter period of time than that produced by conventional reactors, and it can also break down long-lived waste from conventional nuclear reactors into less harmful substances.
Carlo Rubbia is currently professor at the University of Pavia, Italy .
Carlo Rubbia was president of ENEA (Italian Institute for New technologies, Energy and Environment) until July 15, 2005 (Decreto del Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri Silvio Berlusconi).