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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Edoardo Amaldi

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Interview with Dr. Edoardo Amaldi
By Lanfranco Belloni
In Roma, Italy
December 10, 1982

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Edoardo Amaldi; December 10, 1982

ABSTRACT: Amaldi emphasizes that his concerns were not solely directed to the development of nuclear and particle physics; he was also interested in the development of solid state physics, even though this was not his field. Amaldi recalls disagreements between Fausto Fumi and Luigi Giulotto, which prompted Fumi to leave Italy again and go to England. Amaldi traces the origin of Giulotto’s antipathy to Istituto nazionale di fisica nucleare. Interview conducted as part of the International Project in the History of Solid State Physics.



Professor Amaldi has some recollections on the origins of solid state physics in Italy.


Well, I’m afraid that my early recollections about this program are more about the difficulties that were found in Italy, to give a start to solid state physics. I don’t remember now exactly the year, since I did not prepare this interview, it is taking place completely occasionally, at a certain moment, I don’t remember, 1952 or 1951, ‘53, the first step in the construction, in the creation of an atomic committee in Italy was the foundation of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Nucleari, CNRN which was a branch of the Council of Research. And it was presided by Francesco Giordani. I was a member of this committee, and together with Angelini I was one of the two vice presidents. And Ippolito was the secretary of the committee. Now, at the time, I, and Ferretti was also a member, I should say, he and I were aware of the necessity to start as soon as possible to develop solid state physics.

So, we thought that a good topic for a start of solid state physics in Italy, in connection with the creation of the CNRN, was the study of radiation damage of various materials(?). So that was a good reason. Therefore the CNRN and later the final created body the CNEN (Couitats Nazionale per l’Energia Nucleare) was to develop some activity in the field of solid state, in view of the study of radiation damage. At the beginning -- I’m sorry that I don’t remember now exactly in which year -- we formed a certain number of consulting commissions, which could give advice to the directing body of the CNRN about a number of subjects. For instance economics of, one I remember was the economics of nuclear energy production, including nuclear energy production and other sources of energies, and for instance, for that we proposed, and he was actually nominated president the engineer Valerio of Edison as an expert in energy production and so on. And so we created a committee for the study of solid states.

I don’t remember now exactly the name, but there are documents of the CNRN, where this is written, which was presided over by Giulotto, and it is -- I remember, there was Ferretti, there was Fumi, and a few others. And these people started to say what should be done, with the aim of starting activity in solid states. And a proposal -- it was prepared by them in discussion and conversation -- continuous conversation with me, with the secretary general Ippolito and others -- was to try to create in Pavia, the place where Giulotto was teaching, a number of experts in solid state, and to create around them a school of solid state financed by CNRN, and that was very easy because the amount of money, with respect to the total amount of money of this body, was a small fraction, so it was very easy. On the other hand, Giulotto and others from the University of Pavia committed themselves to create a chair of theory of solid states for Fumi, that was a(?) professor, if I remember correctly, in Genoa, so that there were two professors, one in -– both in solid states, but one in theory, one in experimental –- which were established, established the school.

This was actually there and so Fumi went to Pavia. He was rather young, appreciably younger than Giulotto and he took a certain amount of initiative, and probably he was not very careful enough to do these initiatives, to do these actions, after having consulted Giulotto –- I suspect, I don’t know the details, but that has always been my suspicion. Anyhow, for instance, Fumi that had been around, had been to various foreign laboratories, started to invite foreigners to give seminars, and to put also a piece of paper announce the (?) of this man. Well, what happened? Giulotto was very much had been put, this announcement, because he complained. And Fumi did not know. So, when there arrived the hour where some expert internationally well known physicist, was ready to talk, nobody was there, because they had taken down the announcement and so on. This was the beginning of a tremendous fight. Caldirola, who was in Pavia, as a young professore incaricats’(?) was present, he was suffering from that tried to keep it quiet. But the atmosphere became very hot.

I wrote to Polvani in Milan, who was at the time president of the Italian Physical Society, and I went to talk to him, and asked if he’d tried, if he would please try to find some good excuse to go to Pavia to talk with Giulotto and Fume, and especially Giulotto, I should say, and try to see if he could not accept that a second professor, also had some possibility of deciding something without… Polvani went or somebody went, on some occasion, to Pavia. They called me in a very sad mood and said, “Well, there’s nothing to do there. It’s a very difficult situation.” The CNRN had started to give some money – that was the beginning for the in time occasion of the school. Another part of the situation – when we saw there was nothing to lose, the situation was impossible –- and everybody was very very upset at this failure -– In the meantime, Fumi could not live any more in Pavia, his life was too difficult, in the same building with Giulotto, so he obtained an invitation I believe by (Fred) Seitz, if I am correct, but you should ask however, to Fumi, to go to Urbana. I remember, he came in this room to talk with me. He was extremely upset. I tried to convince him to stay, but it was very, it was impossible. So he left. After that I reported again to the COMMISSIONE DIRETTIVA of the CNRN and said, “I don’t know what to do. It seems to me that our plan to develop this activity now does not go. We cannot follow now the situation, with an older man like Giulotto, he is very competent, very expert experimentalist, specialized in spectroscopy at the time he had started to do some nuclear resonances and so on, as I said at the beginning --” So we decided to accept the fact that this attempt to start at such an early stage at school in solid state physics did not work. So no more money was given for this project, but I believe it’s significant that enterprising (?). And then everything stopped. And the causes there were two, one: Giulotto felt that we were not fair to him and he resented it so he was extremely against the INFN (Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare), that was just young, and started to do all possible actions against it. Of course, he was a very strongly against the INFN, said they were really kind of devil and then got –- two ideas.

What a new generation, the generation of Fumi and of some … of Giulotto, like Chiarotti and Bassani, grew up, when they were grown, they were very reasonable persons, and they started again, and then the Committee for Physics of the Council of Research –- they were, I believe, that should be checked –- they were Careri and Chiarotti and Puppi and maybe some other people, and then they started to create the Gruppo Nazionale di Struttura Della Materia (GNSM) and that was beginning. Now, I should reconstruct the dates, but I think that between this first attempt done by CNRN and the beginning of this national group (GNSM), was seven or eight years. If it was delayed it could have been about ten.


Professor Amaldi, thank you very much.[1]

[1]May 19, 1988 - Listened to the tap and filled in some of the gaps and made a few corrections. Part of the conversation is actually rather incomprensible, bu tthe names of persons, institutions and places are now the correct ones.