Laura Maria Catarina Bassi, born in Bologna on 31 October 1711, was one of the first women of science in Italy.
The Bassi family was an influential one in Bologna, where the father practised law. The family noticed Laura's intellectual gifts very early on and entrusted her education to a professor who taught medicine at the University of Bologna. Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, the future Pope Benedict XIV, becomes her unfailing protector. Laura Bassi defended the philosophy argument in front of five professors on 17 April 1732 and became a doctor of philosophy in 1733. With the help of a scholarship, the ambitious young woman continued her studies. She taught mathematics and physics. Her courses were renowned and attracted students from all over Europe.
In 1738, Laura Bassi married Dr Giuseppe Veratti, who taught medicine and physics at the university. The eight children born of this marriage did not prevent Laura Bassi from continuing to teach for 28 years. In order to be able to continue her research and teaching work, the couple set up an impressive experimental physics cabinet in their home. This equipment enabled the physicist to reconcile her family and professional life.
Laura Bassi contributed to the introduction of Newtonian ideas in Italy. Some of her texts on Cartesian and Newtonian physics were published by the University of Bologna. She holds the chair of experimental physics, specially created for her by the Institute of Sciences. Laura Bassi was the first woman to hold a university chair in Europe.
In 1745, Pope Benedict XIV, concerned about the progress of science, founded an academy of twenty-five members, the Benedetinni, responsible for presenting a scientific paper each year. The Pope then undertook to have Laura Bassi admitted as the twenty-fifth member. The reactions to this nomination were controversial, but Italian professors mobilised in her favour. Laura Bassi died on 20 February 1778. Her career was exceptional for a woman of her time.
● Paula Findlen: Women on the Verge of Science: Aristocratic Women and Knowledge in Early Eighteen-Century Italy, in: Women, Gender and Enlightenment, ed. Sarah Knott and Barbara Taylor, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp.265-287.
● Laura B. Tyle: Laura Bassi, dan s: Encyclopedia of World Biography, UXL, 2003.
● Renate Tobies: Aller Männerkultur zum Trotz, Frauen in Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften, Campus, 1997, p. 41.
● Colette Nativel: Femmes savantes, savoirs des femmes. Etudes réunies par Colette Nativel, Droz, 1999, p.31-32
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