from "L'Università di Torino", Pluriverso, Torino 1993
For more information an expanded version, in italian, of this document is available.
Until 1748 the teaching was imparted first by Father Roma and then by Father Gallo, of the worthy Minimal Order whose members were dedicated to the study of natural phenomena. In truth, the two Fathers were naturally more versed in questions of ethics than in the new physics, and the teaching was marked by Carthesianism rather than Galilean and Newtonian inspiration. This, however, is natural: we must not forget that Fontenelle, an important figure among the Carthesians, died centenarian in 1757; and that the Lettres Anglaises, in which Voltaire wittily compares the London Newtonian scientific milieu to the Parisian, were published in 1734.
Father Garro collected in his physics laboratory a certain number of experimental machines even before the famous visit of Abbot Nollet who, invited by the King between 1739 and 1740, demonstrated at the Court experiments with electrical machines that he then gave (or, perhaps, sold) to the physics laboratory.
A move towards the new physics (experimental and up to date) came with the nomination of Father Giovan Battista (in the world Francesco Beccaria, 1716 - 1781) in 1748. The King (Carlo Emanuele III) who wanted to call the worthy Newtonian Jesuit Francesco Jacquier, let himself be convinced by Count Morozzo, reformer of studies, to sign the decree nominating Father Beccaria, scholar of mathematics and physics in addition to being an erudite student of the works of scientists from Euclid to Galileo and Newton. A passionate character dedicated to the experimental sciences, a polemist indifferent to philosophical disputes but not to scientific ones, Beccaria declared himself a Galileian and Newtonian, and an upholder of the experimental method.
The science of mechanics was well on the way to formalization (which is completed half a century later by the fundamental work of Lagrange), or was committed to mathematical astronomy and practical applications. It was therefore natural for Father Beccaria, like many others, to show a great interest in the fascinating new electrical and chemical phenomena. With this research he refounded the teaching of physics and addressed his investigations to modern subjects. The level of his researches was comparable to that of the most active European centres. His treatise ``About Artificial and Natural Electricism Books Two'' was published in 1753. Accepting Franklin's theory of a single fluid, he arranged systematically in that framework the phenomena observed and introduced quantitative mathematical methods. His was, at that period, the best treatise on electrology that contains its main subjects: the classification of electrical bodies, the function of the dielectric medium, the condensers, and the magnetic properties of bodies. He invented and used that which later will be called Faraday's cage, stating a fundamental property of electrostatics: ``all electricity goes up to the free surface of the bodies without diffusing in their interior substance''. He discussed, amongst other things, the electricity of clouds and in general the connection of electricity with atmospheric phenomena, and studied the dispersal of electrical charges in the air. Thus he diffused the use of lightning conductors that therefore have been adopted in Italy before elsewhere. Beccaria was a leading physicist well known internationally, greatly appreciated by Franklin and Priestley among others.
Beccaria admitted to his experimentations three cultured young gentlemen dedicated to the new experimental science. These were Count Giuseppe Saluzzo di Monesiglio (born 1734), Gianfrancesco Cigna (born the same year), and Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange, born two years later. They attended the laboratory sessions and participated in experiments. In 1757 the three gentlemen founded the scientific society that became transformed into the Reale Accademia delle Scienze in 1783 by Royal Charter.
Between this group and Father Beccaria, however, a bitter contest opened regarding the interpretation of the calcination of metals (Beccaria's interpretation was correct: he held, on the basis of very precise measurements, that the metal, once calcinated, weighed more, thus concluding that it had absorbed something from the air). The atmosphere between the professor on one hand and the three young men on the other was thus damaged.
Later Lagrange followed, with much greater skill, the main roads of analytical mechanics rather than the paths of Eighteenth Century chemistry, leaving Turin, in 1767, for Berlin, the guest of Frederic the Great for 20 years. Cigna was, above all, a very well known doctor (so much so that Beccaria called him to his death bed), even if he continued to dedicate time to the study of physics. Count di Monesiglio was the first President of the Royal Academy.
The determination of the arc of meridian between Andrate and Mondovì was due to Father Beccaria, assisted by Father Canonica (who succeeded him in teaching from 1781 to 1788). The topographic base for the measurement was the straight line between the present day Piazza Statuto in Turin and Rivoli (as a plaque on the Piazza reminds today's bypassers). They obtained for the arc the value of 1° 7' 44''. In Paris, Cesare Cassini, whose estimate, based on the average ellipsoid, was of 1° 8' 14'', criticized this result. The discrepancy between Beccaria's measurement and the theoretical computation was later correctly attributed (by Plana, around 1820) to the presence of the Alps, the attraction of which deviates the direction of the plumb line. Thus there was a good reason for the measurement by Beccaria to differ from the theoretical value.
The school of physics was continued after 1788 by Abbot Giuseppe Antonio Eandi (1735 - 1799), deputy for Beccaria and professor of Geometry before assuming the responsibility for physics and its laboratory. His interests concerned medicine, technical arts and chemistry. He carried out research on air combustion, artificial and animal electricity. His treatise, ``Physicae Experimentalis Lineamenta ad Subalpinos'', written in collaboration with his nephew Antonio Maria Vassalli (1761 - 1825) was widely circulated in Italy and abroad. This same nephew, who succeeded him and assumed his surname (Vassalli Eandi), pursued, with competence and passion, investigations on various aspects of electrology. He also devoted himself to the problems of the determination of units and the use of the decimal metric system.
If, under the Emperor Napoleon, the number of the special schools was raised to nine, and if the disciplines and teaching were minutely regulated, on the other hand the financial provisions were halved, and with the decree of May 10 1806 the University, its autonomy lost, came to depend on Paris directly. In this framework 1810 saw the birth of the faculty of Sciences with nine chairs (Physics, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Zoology, Comparative Anatomy, Transcendental Mathematics, Mechanics, Hydrology and Astronomy). In this period Vassalli Eandi was called to Paris as a member of the Commission of Weights and Measures.
In 1814 the restoration of the Ancient Régime brought back the organization to before 1792. Vassalli Eandi (Life Secretary of the Accademia Reale delle Scienze) retired in 1822 and in his place we find Father Giorgio Follini until 1826. In spite of the restoration however, the storm had not passed in vain: those were exciting years for the experimental sciences and for mathematics, and the scientific milieu of the University of Turin was at a very high level.
Giovanni Plana (1781 - 1864), astronomer and mathematical physicist, merits to be cited in detail. Coming from Voghera, he was educated at the Ecole Centrale of Grenoble (together with Stendhal) because, ironically, he was placed in the care of an aunt who lived there, so that he, fifteen year old, could be kept at a distance (in that remote province of the Kingdom of Sardinia) from the Jacobine ideas circulating in the schools of Voghera. Winner -- eighth out of 100 participants -- in the Lyon competition to enter the Ecole Polytechnique, where he had as teachers Lagrange and Monge, he was nominated Professor of Astronomy in our university in 1811 and two years later director of the observatory installed on the roof of the building of the Reale Accademia delle Scienze. With the restoration of the King, the chair (a Napoleonic creation) was suppressed, Plana became professor of Analysis and also had the chair of Rational Mechanics at the Military Academy (where he was later appointed Director of Mathematical Studies). Famous and unanimously appreciated for his activity in mathematical physics, Plana passed unharmed through the vicissitudes of 1821 and subsequent events. Appreciated by the King, he succeeded in arranging conveniently the observatory, placing it on top of one of the ancient towers of Palazzo Madama, a position then advised for research -- it was only in 1911, after the increased pollution by electrical illumination, that the observatory was moved to nearby Pino).
An important achievement was the determination -- carried out under his direction by a commission of Sardinian and Austrian officers -- of the average arc of meridian between the Equator and the Pole, through a series of accurate measurements, both astronomical and topographical. As one of the results, these measurements connected the French network to the Austrian. This activity won him an important Austrian decoration.
The work, of imposing size, that made him famous in his time, is the theory of the movement of the moon. His tables, unlike previous ones, did not need continuous experimental control and adjustment, and surpassed Laplace's treatment of 1802 (in the treatise Mécanique Celéste) thus winning the prize instituted -- on the suggestion of Laplace himself -- by the Académie de France.
Amedeo Avogadro (1776 - 1856), an exceptional figure in chemistry and physics, took a degree in law but was profoundly interested in mathematics and the structure of matter. Starting in November 1809 he taught at the secondary high school in Vercelli, having already written some papers on electrology and chemistry (on the nature of metallic salts). During his period in Vercelli he published two memoirs (1811 and 1813) in which he formulated his famous hypothesis on the composition of matter.
In 1811 he wrote: ``We must thus conclude that there is also a very simple relationship between the volume of gaseous substances and the number of simple or composite molecules that form them. The hypothesis which is presented the first in this respect, and here seems the only admissible one, is to suppose that the number of whole molecules in whatever gases is always the same in equal volumes, and is always proportional to the volumes'' (Essai d'une manière de déterminer les masses relatives des molécules élémentaires des corps, Journal de Physique, 73 (1811) p. 58 [my translation, VdA]).
This hypothesis of his took time to be accepted but today one of the fundamental constants of physics bears his name.
His activity was manifested in many scientific publications, most of which deal with subjects of molecular physical chemistry. This science, together with cristallography, was brilliantly systemized in the treatise ( 3700 pages) "Physics of Heavy Bodies" (Turin, Royal Printers, 4 vol. 1837 - 1841).
The chair of Fisica Sublime (the first in Italy) was created and entrusted to Avogadro in October 1820. This teaching dealt with the mathematical principles of the natural sciences (from 1860 onwards it bore the name of Fisica Superiore that it still has today). The teaching, however, was suppressed by the decree 24.7.1822. In vain the personal report by his superiors stated: "Amedeo Avogardo, esq., professor of Sublime Physics. Political situation: nothing to report. Reputation adequate. While we cannot state that Mr Avogadro is overwhelmingly attached to His Majesty, in the upheavals of these times he behaved without reproach". Possibly Avogadro did not show enough zeal in blaming and repressing the restless students in 1821. He was given a small pension by the University (600 Lire a year) and in 1824 was nominated Chief Auditor in the Royal Accounts Office.
The chair of General and Experimental Physics -- the holder of which was also director of the scientific laboratory -- was from the time of the restoration in the ``Class'' of Philosophy; only from 1849 onwards we find the ``Class'' of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. In 1828 it was assigned to Giuseppe Domenico Botto (1791 - 1865) who had studied, first in Genova and then at the Ecole Polytechnique. An architect, captain of the Engineers, he had, in some way, participated in the riots in Alessandria in March 1821 for which he was forced to leave the army ``dismissed without permission to wear the uniform''.
Nominated professor of physics by the King in 1828, the decree was suspended until a very rapid ministerial enquiry (from June 5th to 9th) checked his involvement in the affairs of 1821. The minister Barbaroux, on 21st, communicated to the Secretary of State that ``His Majesty, having remained quite satisfied by the explanations transmitted by his Excellency the Marchese Brignole, on account of Architect Botto, ordered me to write to Your Honour to forward permission for his chair of experimental physics''.
Botto's experimental activity was dedicated to the important theories of the period: magnetic, thermal and chemical effects of electrical currents and induction of currents. In August 1830, in a note, he describes a prototype of electric motor with which he was experimenting. In 1836 a more detailed Memoria to the Academy appears. It described a ``locomotive machine put into movement by electro magnetism, based upon rotational motion''. In the following years he wrote a series of works on the energetic balance of electromagnetic circuits, addressed to improve the efficiency and increase the power of electric engines. His last work, in 1849, proposed a new system of codification and transmission for the electric telegraph (created in his university laboratory).
Botto also carried out, as might be expected, a notable work of spreading scientific culture with conferences and popular publications, not only in physics. There is an interesting ``Agrologic Creed, that is Principles of Science applied to Agriculture'', Turin, Royal Printers 1846, important for promoting the techniques suited to improve agriculture in Piedmont. Botto's rich personal library, given to the University, constituted the first nucleus of the Physics Library as a separate entity in the Institute of Physics. With Botto therefore the level of the research in physics at our University remained high.
Silvestro Gherardi (1802 - 1879), from Romagna, is another example of that generation of scientists directly involved in the political renewal. He participated in the events of 1848 - 49 and was Minister of Education in the brief period of the Roman Republic. Having taken refuge in the Kingdom of Sardinia, he had, from 1857 to 1861, the chair of physics in Turin, and thus the responsibility of the scientific laboratory. (After the unification of Italy he was a representative for Romagna in the first Italian Parliament.) Expert in electricity amd optics, he was involved in the history of science and (among other things) we owe to him the conservation of the texts of the disputation between Tartaglia and Ferrari (1547) on the solution of cubic algebraic equations. Naturally his involvement with Turin was too brief. He was followed, between 1862 and 1878, by Gilberto Govi (1826 - 1889), from Mantua, veteran of the campains of '48 -49 and exiled in France, where he studied physics. In addition to studies and measurements on various subjects, Govi also spent time on the history of science; he edited Ptolemaus' Optics and published studies on Leonardo and Galileo. From 1872 onwards he was almost always in Paris, a member of the international commission for weights and measures, and became the first director of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.
Although not a professor at the University (but a member of the Collegio associated to the faculty), it is necessary to remember the activity of Galileo Ferraris (1847 - 1894). He was an engineer, professor of technical physics at the Royal Industrial Museum that was later annexed to the Politechnical School. He is famous for having planned and created electric motors working with alternate currents. He was a person of great honesty and extreme altruism: he did not want to take out a patent on his inventions and refused a large sum from an American company, because he felt that the discovery should be put at the service of everyone: ``I am a professor, not an industrialist'', he said with regard to the offer. It was a constatation, not an act of pride.
Under Andrea Nàccari (1841 - 1926, chair of General and Experimental Physics from 1878 - 1916) the new Institute of Corso D'Azeglio was inaugurated (November 1898). It was financed, together with other institutes of the Valentino area, by an organization in which the University, Government, Province and Town Council participated. In reality the Institute, the construction of which began in 1886, was already finished in 1893 but for four years there was no money to furnish it. Compare this with the new wing of via Giuria, which took from 1969 to 1986 to be built.
The research carried out under his supervision regarded thermology, chemical physics, electrostatics, thermoelectricity, conduction in gases and photoelectricity. We should note a series of experiments about screening gravity, carried out with a torsion balance, not able, naturally, to detect any positive effect; and also the attempts to reveal the existence of ether (in contrast to Einstein's theory of Relativity), inspired by his colleagues Tommaso Boggio (in Turin) and Quirino Majorana (in Bologna, not to be confused with Ettore Majorana). Alfredo Pochettino (1876 - 1953, chair from 1916 to 1946) who succeeded him, did not participate in the renewal of physics; he continued research on various aspects of classical physics: electricity, properties of the atmosphere (with ascents in balloons) and properties of solids.
Romolo Deaglio (1899 - 1978) holds the chair of Fisica Superiore from 1942 to 1969. An expert in precision measurements, he establishes the department of photometrics in the Istituto Nazionale Galileo Ferraris, organizing the work with new methods and equipment. After 1947 he dedicated himself to the Physics Institute with energy, unselfishness, and organizational capacity. He selected, with competence and insight, colleagues and young scientists to found the new activity of the Institute: nuclear and particle physics. With a sense of institution and farsightedness he called, in November 1949, Gleb Wataghin (1899 - 1986) to the chair of General and Experimental Physics; then the directing team of the Institute was completed by calling, in 1950, Mario Verde (1920 - 1983), very young winner of a chair in theoretical physics.
Verde was a brilliant theoretician coming from the Scuola Normale di Pisa and the Physics Institute in Rome, with behind him a stay at Heisenberg's institute in Germany and a long period of research at the E.T.H. in Zurich with Pauli, Jost and Fierz and no previous connection to Turin. Wataghin, on the contrary, was by then well known in the scientific community of Turin, where he had arrived, a lonely refugee, in 1919; he had taken his degrees in Turin, Physics in 1922 and Mathemathics in 1924, in spite of immense material difficulties. For a long time professor at the Royal Military Academy in Turin, he was, between 1920 and '30, the only physicist in Turin who supported the new quantum physics (it was he who advised Gian Carlo Wick to choose the subject of his thesis and was his tutor for its preparation). Extremely versatile, capable of working in theoretical as well as experimental physics, in 1934 he moved to Brazil where he is today considered one of the founding fathers of Brazilian physics. He also had to his credit both many expeditions for measuring cosmic rays in remote mountain sites and an immense enthusiasm for physics.
From then onwards a season of striking successes opens for the Institute bringing it up to the level of the best foreign and Italian institutions. Around the organizational ability of Deaglio, the drive of Wataghin's personality, and the profound mathematical and theoretical culture of Verde, in the '50s a generation of enthusiastic young scientists start their activity. They take part in avant - garde research, travel and stay abroad for long periods. The pattern could not be more different from the gloomy and difficult war period and from pre - war physics in Turin.
In a few years the contributions of the Institute of Turin become well known internationally. A group is formed that participates in the European collaboration for the launching of balloons that take into the upper atmosphere emulsions capable of detecting new particles. Launching balloons, and recovering them in the Mediterranean or in western Europe (sometimes in Yugoslavia) in those years where a passport was needeed to cross even the French frontier, sounds, and was, adventurous. Back in the Institute, the laboratory, prepared to analyse the emulsions, is ready. With the arrival of the new generation of particle accelerators, at the end of the '50s, the techniques change and the group organizes itself for the analysis of traces in bubble chambers. Other experimental groups study the detection of cosmic rays through counters (home made). Thus the Laboratory of Plateau Rosa, next to the Matterhorn, is reactivated. This site is a place of collaboration of people coming from various universities, with legendary accounts of endurance by physicists, going there for a week and staying isolated for a month, desperate for cigarettes and looking for butts under the rough wooden floor (they could do without food, but not without cigarettes...). Thus the laboratory of electronics is developed. Other experiments take place in the Institute: nuclear reactions, electron scattering, and important experiments on the positron (Sergio Debenedetti, from Pittsburgh, on a sabbatic back in his home town). In 1954 the first Italian circular accelerator, a 30 MeV betatron, soon followed by a 100 MeV synchrotron, is mounted in the basement under the garden. Later, in 1960, an electrostatic accelerator of 250 KeV is planned and built; through the reaction (d, t) it produces 14.2 MeV neutrons. Experiments in the field of nuclear physics are performed with the particles and photons produced.
At the same time theoretical physics, that already in the early '50s had reached results of great value (particle and nuclear physics, mathematical methods, field theory, general relativity etc), develops rapidly, thanks to the new generation of physicists. Two Heinemann prizes from the American Physical Society (1964 and 1968) and an Einstein prize in 1979 attest to the high level of the theoretical activity.
By the middle of the '50s the integration of the research in nuclear and particle physics in the international community is completed. The school of physics of Turin is one of the leading institutions in Italy. Many foreign colleagues work, sometimes for long periods, in the Institute of via Giuria. Towards the end of the '40s there is a great interest in the long visit (one month) of the Nobel laureate P.A.M. Dirac. He was also remembered, years later, for his very long walks at great speed up and down the hills, followed by a couple of young theoreticians who tried (in vain, so it seems) to extract from him precious information about what to do. In the '50s the visit and presence of leading physicists and young ones destined to an important future is a normal event.
In 1957 the visit of the Nobel laureate Hideki Yukawa with his wife in kimono, traditional head dress, and wooden shoes, made a sensation. Physicists also remember the characteristic figure of Pauli in his last years, and Heisenberg, Thirring, Jost, Powell, Fierz, Gell-Mann, T.D. Lee, Maurice Levy, Victor Weisskopf, Infeld, and many other nowadays well known physicists: American, French, British, German, and from many other countries too. Naturally our Institute, thanks to the origin and connections of Gleb Wataghin, is the first to establish contact with the physicists of Eastern Europe at the first sign of the thaw after '55: Iwanenko, Bogolubov, Alikhanian, Khalatnikov and many others. Several Italians from other Universities spend long periods in Turin and vice versa, a sign of an internal mobility that (regrettably)is no longer necessary, as communication is today immensely easier.
The foundation, in 1951, of the INFN (National Institute for Nuclear Physics), of which Turin is the first section (followed within a few months by Rome, Milan and Bologna) constitutes an example of a perfect organization of science at a national level, thus favouring the cooperation between the different institutes, the choice and development of activities, and the diffusion of ideas and techniques. Above all the INFN supports research and expansion of collaboration in Italy and abroad, whilst the number of researchers directly dependent on the INFN always remains limited.
As a consequence, both the theoretical and the experimental collaborations increase. The experiments in particle physics that use accelerators are transformed into great international collaborations. The personnel of the Institute increases. If, at the end of the war, the Institute consisted of 6 - 7 persons between chairs and assistants, at the beginning of the '60s it reaches about 40 researchers with the corresponding services needed for a modern laboratory: mechanical electronic and printing workshops, with a sizeable number of technicians. In 1961 a floor is added to the building of '98, respecting its lines.
Physicists are eager for calculus. There is progress (from the mechanical calculating machines): the first Marchant electric machines are bought soon by Mario Verde and the first Olivetti electronic computer (Elea, fed by paper strip) arrives in 1960, soon followed by IBM computers. In 1968 a veritable computer centre is organized around a powerful IBM 360/44. It is the centre that later becomes the University computer centre and is at the basis of the creation of the CSI. At the same time, principally through Deaglio and Verde, a degree course in Informatics is created that rapidly assumes its own physionomy and structure. In 1985, thanks to the INFN, the Institute, endowed with powerful and versatile computers at various levels, forms the national INFN network. From this time onwards the Italian physics institutes are linked with other laboratories abroad by the international computer network, a tremendous improvement of efficiency for scientific cooperations.
Already from the first years of the '60s, no chance is lost to widen research with new chairs. If, for example, the presence of two chairs of theoretical physics is in those years still exceptional in Italian faculties, at Turin in 1961 there are already three. Many physicists from Turin have occupied chairs in other parts of Italy (Rome, Genoa, Padua, Cagliari, Catania, Modena, Florence, Bari). New professors come from other Italian institutes (Rome, Pisa, Milan...), amongst these Carlo Franzinetti (1923 - 1980) who gives great impulse to experimental particle physics and starts new fields of interest (but, unfortunately, he has no time to pursue his work for long). The research personnel continues to increase in the following years (in 1993, between the University, INFN and CNR there are about 200 people).
In the '60s a group in cosmic physics, geophysics and environmental physics is formed. This gives life to the Institute of Cosmogeophysics of the CNR.
From the '70s onwards, various groups are present in every field of particle and nuclear physics, both theoretical and experimental. Subjects of research and collaborations expand. Groups from Turin participate in experiments at all major European, American, Soviet and Japanese laboratories , such as Frascati, CERN, SLAC, Fermilab, Brookhaven, Saclay and Orsay, Protvino and Dubna, DESY etc. Their theoretical colleagues maintain a close network of international collaboration and connections. In addition, foreseeing, with great anticipation, the developments of one of the most interesting themes of contemporary physics, the underground experimentation to detect the instability of the proton and perform neutrino physics is promoted with the creation of a pioneering laboratory under the Mont Blanc tunnel.
The results reached by physics in our University, in all the fields in which there has been activity since the beginning of the '50s onwards, have been fundamental. Furthermore, the development which has been traced here is not, as some might think, just of a technical character. Physics is particularly suited for promoting a sort of scientific humanism. These physicists of the post-war period are part of an international cultural community in which they are immersed, of which they share both the scientific values and the cultural interests: these values and interests allow them to establish bridges between different cultures, contributing to create a climate of international collaboration and reciprocal understanding, and attitudes of tolerance and commitment for a better world. This atmosphere in turn influences the Turinese and Italian culture through the thousands of students that have participated, through the years, in the endeavours of physics and thus in this atmosphere of scientific renaissance permeated by values of universal culture.
In the latter section of this paper, the term ``Institute'' was used to mean the building and its content, in people as well as equipment, not in the legal university sense. At the start of the '60s the building hosted three legally defined ``institutes'': General, Superior and Theoretical Physics.
This paper was written in 1993. Among its criteria, there was the rule not to mention any living person.