John Kielkopf entered the University of Louisville as an early-admissions student in 1963 before finishing high school. He received a B.S. in Physics with highest honors in 1966 and an M.S. in Physics in the same year by participating in the accelerated master's degree program. He was selected as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and with support from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the National Science Foundation he received a Ph.D. in physics from The Johns Hopkins University in 1969. He joined the faculty of the University of Louisville as an Assistant Professor that year and became a full Professor in 1977. Currently also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, he has been an Associate Research Scientist at Hopkins, a Visiting Scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, and an Adjunct Astronomer at the Observatory of Paris - Meudon.
In 1997 he received the University's President's Award for Outstanding Scholarship, Research and Creative Activity, and in 2006 he received the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Service Award for Service to the Profession. In 2009 he received the University of Louisville's Trustee's Award in recognition of his extraordinary impact on students.
His fundamental research in astronomy and astrophysics is in collaboration with Dr. Nicole Allard of the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris, France, Drs. Bradley Carter and Rhodes Hart of the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, and Dr. Karen Collins of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard. Precision photometry, astronomical and laboratory spectroscopy, the theory of atomic spectral line formation, and radiative transport theory are used to determine physical conditions in laboratory plasmas, stars, brown dwarfs, and exoplanets. Ground-based astronomical observations and analysis of transiting planets are made as part of the follow-up program of the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellte (TESS) mission. Graduate students in the research program are studying exoplanets in search of evidence of their atmospheres and habitability, and the formation of new stars in our own galaxy.
Current applied research includes the development of astronomical instrumentation and software, and sensitive time-domain ambient light detection and analysis for remote sensing.
His interest in astronomy education and student research experiences led to the development in 1978 of Moore Observatory located in the University's Horner Wildlife Refuge in nearby Oldham County, and the Shared Skies collaboration with Mt. Kent Observatory in Queensland. The facilities are used remotely or robotically by faculty and graduate, undergraduate and pre-college students in Kentucky and Queensland, and offer full coverage of the sky for imaging, photometry and spectroscopy with 0.6 and 0.5-meter telescopes at Moore Observatory, a 0.6 meter telescope on Mt. Lemmon, 0.7 and 0.5 meter telescopes at Mt. Kent, and Minerva Australis also at Mt. Kent.
Helen and John Kielkopf own Hidden Hollow Orchard and a surrounding conservation area and wildlife sanctuary bordering Floyd's Fork on the outskirts of Louisville. Their daughter, Clara Kielkopf , is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester.