Laura Bassi: Google doodle to honor Italian physicist & academic
- United States
Today's Doodle celebrates Laura Maria Catarina Bassi, an Italian physicist, and professor, who applied Newton's second law of motion to the momentum of women in science. On this day in 1732, Bassi successfully defended 49 theses to become one of the first women in Europe to receive a doctorate in science and second woman in the world to earn the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Laura Maria Catarina Bassi (also called Laura Bassi) was born in Bologna, Papal States (modern-day Italy) in 1711. A child prodigy, she was debating top academics on the history of philosophy and physics by 20; a rare achievement at a time in which women were largely excluded from higher education.
Laura Bassi was privately educated. Her cousin's father Lorenzo Stegani taught her Latin, French, and mathematics from age five. From the same age to twenty, Gaetano Tacconi taught her philosophy, metaphysics, logic, and natural philosophy. Gaetano Tacconi was their family physician and professor of medicine at the University of Bologna.
Laura Bassi and Tacconi began to drift apart after Bassi discovered an interest in Newtonian science, despite Tacconi's preference for her to focus on the less controversial Cartesian teachings. She became the first woman elected to the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna on 20 March.
Working at the University of Bologna, she was also the first salaried woman teacher in a university. In fact, at one time she was the highest-paid employee. She eventually became the first female university professor in the world.
By 1732, Laura Bassi was a household name in Bologna, and following her thesis defense, she became the first female member of the Bologna Academy of Sciences, one of Italy's foremost scientific institutions. Due to gender discrimination, her position at the Academy was limited, yet she persisted.
Laura Bassi apprenticed under eminent Bologna professors to learn calculus and Newtonian physics, a discipline she spread across Italy for almost 50 years. A lifelong teacher of physics and philosophy, she complimented her education with innovative research and experiments on subjects ranging from electricity to hydraulics.
Laura Bassi became the most important popularize of Newtonian mechanics in Italy. She was inducted by the Pope to the Benedettini (similar to the modern Pontifical Academy of Sciences) as an additional member in 1745. She took up the Chair of Experimental Physics in 1776, the position she held until her death. She is interred at the Church of Corpus Domini, Bologna. Laura Bassi continually fought for gender equality in education throughout her trailblazing career.
Here's to you, Laura Bassi!