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Saturday, November 03, 2018

Science history: Newton’s Italian champion | Profile - Cosmos

From early in her life, Laura Bassi was recognised as a genius and polymath. Jeff Glorfeld, former senior editor of The Age newspaper in Australia, and is now a freelance journalist based in California, US. reports. 

A portrait of Laura Bassi Veratti, in the form of lithograph by Salvatore Puglia from Poliorama Pittoresco in 1841.
Photo: DeA / Icas94 / Getty Images
Laura Maria Caterina Bassi, born October 29, 1711, was the second woman to receive a university degree in Europe and the first to be offered an official university teaching position, both at the University of Bologna in what is now Italy.

She was the first female member of the Bologna Academy of Sciences, one of the country’s leading academies, and played a significant role in the spread of Newtonian experimental physics through her teaching, research, and correspondence.

Stanford University’s online Bassi-Veratti Collection – so named because in 1738 she married science lecturer Giovanni Giuseppe Veratti – calls her “one of the most important and visible scientific women in 18th-century Europe”. 

The website of her alma mater says Bassi was “the world's first woman university professor”, at a time when “women were generally excluded from intellectual professions and learning”...

The University of Bologna says she was “equally talented in Latin, logic, metaphysics, natural philosophy, algebra, geometry, Greek and French. She maintained ties with the greatest scholars of her time, from Volts to Voltaire...

It notes that this was a time when the study of physics was largely “divided between the views of Descartes and those of Newton. Bassi was a staunch supporter of Newton and her lectures were designed to introduce her students to Newtonian physics.”

Bassi’s entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica says she “was a child prodigy”. At age 13, professor Gaetano Tacconi, from the University of Bologna, took charge of her education, and seven years later he “invited the archbishop of Bologna, Prospero Cardinal Lambertini, to examine her progress”. 

Source: Cosmos