Laura Maria Catarina Bassi, born October 31, 1711 in Bologna (Italy) and died February 20, 1778 in the same city, is an Italian mathematician and physicist.
Laura Maria Catarina Bassi was born in Bologna on October 31, 1711, her father practicing law there. Recognizing his early intellectual gifts, he entrusted his education to Gaetano Tacconi (it), who teaches medicine at the University of Bologna. She then received the attention and support of Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, future Pope Benedict XIV (1675-1758). She stood the disputatio test before five professors of philosophy on April 27, 1732. The same year, she taught anatomy at the university and, the following year, became a doctor of philosophy [in the broad sense of natural philosophy]. The city senate offers her a pension so that she can continue her studies. She then taught mathematics and physics. Its courses are renowned and attract students from all over Europe. Among his students, we must mention in particular the biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799) and the physicist Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) 1.
In 1738, she married another member of the university, Giuseppe Veratti (1707-1793), who taught medicine and physics there. The six children born of this marriage did not prevent Laura Bassi from continuing to teach for 28 years1.
Laura Bassi helps bring Newtonian ideas to Italy. Some of her texts on Cartesian and Newtonian physics are published by the University of Bologna, but they do not publish any books. She receives the Chair of Experimental Physics, specially created for her by the Institute of Sciences, and her husband becomes her assistant. His field of predilection is electricity applied to medicine1.
In 1745, Pope Benedict XIV, concerned about the progress of science2, founded an academy, the Benedettini, of twenty-five members responsible for presenting a scientific communication each year. The Pope then maneuvered to have Laura Bassi admitted as the twenty-fifth member. Reactions to this proposed appointment are mixed, but Italian professors are mobilizing in his favor. Upon her death, her chair will remain vacant until the appointment of obstetrician Maria Dalle Donne (1778-1842). Her career is exceptional for Europe, but Italy has honored other women scientists like Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799). Among his works are De Problemate quodam Mechanico and De Problemate quodam Hydrometrico1.
Émilie du Châtelet, (1706-1749), French physicist, translator of the Principia Mathematica of Isaac Newton and herself admitted in April 1746 to the Academy of Sciences in Bologna, was one of his admirers.
(15742) Laurabassi, asteroid.
The Lespinasse amphitheater of the National Institute of Applied Sciences of Lyon was renamed Laura Bassi in 2020.
Laura Bassi, mathematician and physicist
Italian mathematician and physicist Laura Maria Catarina Bassi (1711 – 1778) was one of the first women to obtain a university chair. She greatly contributes to the dissemination of Newtonian ideas in Italy.
A brilliant student
Laura Maria Catarina Bassi was born between October 29 and 31, 1711 in Bologna, Italy, into a prosperous family. His father is a lawyer. From childhood, Laura learned French and Latin in particular, and is distinguished by her keen intelligence. Faced with the child’s predisposition for studies, his father decided to entrust it to Gaetano Tacconi, who teaches medicine at the University of Bologna, which is already seven centuries old.
Laura learned by his side for seven years; they will eventually move away when the young woman shows her interest in Newton’s theories. She also continued to learn languages, natural history, geometry, philosophy and arithmetic from one of her cousins, Lorenzo Stegani. During her studies, she was noted for her intellectual acuity, not only by professors and students and the university, but also by Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, who would become Pope in 1740 under the name of Benedict XIV, and who, keen on science, follows his progress with great interest.
Doctor of Philosophy
In 1732, Laura Bassi defended her thesis and became a doctor of philosophy; she is also appointed lecturer in physics and mathematics, which she teaches with anatomy. If women are then a very minority at university, Italian universities – and particularly that of Bologna – are clearly more open than their French counterparts at the same time: in the 13th century, Bettisia Gozzadini, considered the first woman to be appointed professor in a university, thus teaches law there; Alessandra Giliani studied medicine there in the 14th century; Finally from 1390, Dorotea Bucca held a chair of medicine and philosophy there for forty years.
Laura is not only admitted to college, she receives support and honors. Its courses are renowned and attract students from all over Europe; in particular she teaches physicist Alessandro Volta. Beyond his teachings, his reputation crosses borders. The mathematician Emilie du Châtelet, translator of Newton, has great admiration for her, as does Voltaire with whom she corresponds.
Laura married in 1738 to Giuseppe Veratti, who taught physics and medicine at the University of Bologna. Sources disagree on how many children they will have, six, or twelve, only five of whom will reach adulthood, but her new home life does not prevent Laura from continuing her research and teaching.
Always interested in Newtonian ideas, Laura Bassi teaches them, writes articles about them and contributes widely to their dissemination in Italy. She does not write books, but deposits numerous texts and articles at the Bologna Academy of Sciences, in physics, mathematics, mechanics and chemistry.
In 1745, Pope Benedict XIV, who had a great interest in science as well as in Laura’s work, created a group of twenty-five academics, the Benedettini. Despite some reluctance, he admits Laura, who will be the only woman to be part of it. After her death and following a period of vacancy, the chair will pass to another woman, Dr. Maria Dalle Donne. In 1772 Paolo Balbi, professor of experimental physics at the University of Bologna, died; Laura is appointed in her stead and receives her chair in experimental physics, with her husband as assistant.
Laura Bassi died in 1778 at the age of 66, after a rich and fruitful scientific career, in both research and education. Along with those that preceded it, it helps legitimize the place of women in an academic environment that is still very closed to them.