Ivar Giaever graduated from the Norwegian Institute of Technology in 1952 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
In 1953, Giaever completed his military duty as a corporal in the Norwegian Army, and thereafter he was employed for a year as a patent examiner for the Norwegian government.
He emigrated to Canada in 1954 and after a short period as an architect's aide he joined Canadian General Electric's Advanced Engineering Program. In 1956, he emigrated to the USA, where he completed the General Electric Company's A, B and C engineering courses. In these he worked in various assignments as an applied mathematician. He joined the General Electric Research and Development Center in 1958 and concurrently started to study physics at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute, where he obtained a Ph.D. degree in 1964.
From 1958 to 1969 Giaever worked in the fields of thin films, tunneling, and superconductivity. In 1965 he was awarded the Oliver E. Buckley Prize for some pioneering work combining tunneling and superconductivity. In 1969 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and thereupon spent one year in Cambridge, England studying biophysics. Since returning to the Research and Development Center in 1970, Giaever has spent most of his effort studying the behavior of protein molecules at solid surfaces. In recognition of his work he was elected a Coolidge Fellow at General Electric in May 1973.
Giaever is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and the Biophysical Society, and he is a fellow of the American Physical Society. He has served on committees for several international conferences and presently he is a member of the Executive Committee of the Solid State Division in the American Physical Society.