Oral History Transcript — Dr. Fausto Gherardo Fumi
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Fausto Fumi; November 27, 1982
ABSTRACT: Family background, early education with Carlo Perrier in chemistry and physics at Universita di Genova; theoretical inclinations, study abroad, impressions of a research world (U.S.) lion a different scale" from Italy; catalytic role of Giovanni Polvani and Piero Caldirola of Universita di Milano in helping to establish solid state theory in Italy. Scientific activity in close connection with Frederick Seitz and the Urbana school, as well as with Nevill Mott. International recognition of the new Italian “school” at the International School of Physics “Enrico Fermi” in 1958. Lack of interest of northern Italian industries. First move toward Gruppo nazionale di struttura della materia (GNSM), the group of solid state physics within the Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche (CNR); discussion of the relation between industry and academic world in Italy, especially concerning physics departments. Also prominently mentioned are: Giuseppe Bassani, Lina Buiatti, Careri, Vittorio Celli, Gianfranco Chiarotti, Roberto Fieschi, Lina Buiatti Fumi, Luigi Giulotto, Aldo Iandelli, Alfonso Merlini, Giuseppe Occhialini, Luigi Rolla, Mario Tosii Atomic Energy Laboratory (Ispra), Carnegie Institute of Technology, Fulbright Program, Istituto nazionale di fisica nucleare (Rome), Institute of International Education, and Varenna Summer School.
I am Lanfranco Belloni and I am interviewing Professor Fausto Fumi at Sori near Genoa on November 27, 1982. Professor Fumi, I know you were born in Milan in 1924, but I don't know anything else about your family. Who were your parents and what did they do?
My father was a professional chemist. At times he worked for commercial firms, at other times for industrial firms in the field of chemistry, in particular pharmaceutical chemistry. He did not have professional experience abroad, though he traveled widely as a tourist. He spent all of his life in Italy. My mother was born in Trieste. She was born when Trieste was still Austrian and so she was educated in Austrian schools. Her early work was in business administration and management, first in Austria and in Hungary, and later in Italy. After she married my father, her professional work largely ceased. There was, however, a period during which my father had a commercial pharmaceutical firm of his own, and during that period my mother managed the administration of the firm.
Belloni:I see. You went to school in Italy?
Fumi:Yes. All of my schooling was done in Italy, mostly in Genoa, except for some perturbation during the war years, when we left the town. I left Italy for a long period only after the end of the war in 1948, when I went to the States. Earlier I had traveled abroad with my father as a tourist.
Belloni:I see. Were there any secondary school teachers or perhaps other people who had a particularly strong influence on you, in science or in other fields?
Fumi:Among my secondary school teachers there certainly were a number of remarkable individuals, but it would be difficult for me to say that one or two people were really special in their influence on me. Probably this is partly so because my interests through most of the secondary school remained rather wide: I had fairly close relationship with a teacher of philosophy, and a teacher of classics, Greek and Latin, as much as with teachers of mathematics and science. My specific interest in science developed only towards the end of the secondary school, perhaps because I had occasion to meet university students in the field of sciences.
Belloni:So you say the greatest influence was from other students?
Fumi:Yes, from people who were already university students in science but in the last year or two of secondary school also from the school itself probably because I then started looking on science with a different eye, not merely as one of my subjects of study, but as one which might lead me to a professional career.
Of course, I was relatively young. In the years of my secondary schooling it was not uncommon for students in Italy to skip classes, though I am not sure this is in general a good idea. In my own case, I skipped several classes, and I entered university at 16. So my interest in science developed only around 14 or 15, and this was for me the end period of secondary school.
Belloni:And you were enrolled in the chemistry department.
Fumi:Yes, I enrolled first in chemistry and only later in physics. On the specific choice of chemistry there was, I must say, a certain family influence. My father, as I said, was a chemist. When I became interested in science, my interest was, from the beginning, more in physics and in mathematics. My father, being a man of the practical world, was a little concerned as to the practical aspects of the life of a physicist or a mathematician. At that time, in Italy, physics and mathematics were still considered somewhat peculiar professions: in fact one thought of them mostly in terms of secondary school teaching. Thus my father did not consider physics or mathematics as particularly rewarding professions.
So the compromise was: why not try chemistry? This had, indeed, also then clear connections with physics. When I started in chemistry, partly through the influence of the university professors and partly out of my own interests, I tried, whenever possible, to take courses which would be valid both for the degree in chemistry and the degree in physics. For instance, for the mathematics courses of the first biennium, I did not take the specific courses for chemistry but I took the basic courses of calculus 1 and 2, geometry and theoretical mechanics — which were courses for the degrees in physics and mathematics, but which could of course replace the mathematics courses for chemistry. Similarly, for the complementary courses that one could choose out of given lists, I always tried to choose courses which appeared both in the lists for chemistry and in those for physics.
When I begin to talk of my university years, I should immediately mention a few people who did have a definite influence on me.
Belloni:Ok. That was the next question I was going to ask.
Fumi:The influence which proved to be the one of greatest significance was that of Carlo Perrier. I don't know if you have heard of him.
Belloni:He was Segre’s colleague at Palermo where they discovered together Technetium (Element 43).
Indeed. He was basically a physical chemist and in the 1940's he was professor here in Genoa. Of course, you realize that during those years (which were war or shortly after the war years) university life was slowed down, and particularly so the research activity. However, Carlo Perrier was no man to let himself be hampered by difficulty, and though he was already approaching 60, he was still very active. I must say that he took me under his own wing after the completion of my second year of chemistry, and after my third year he took me as an intern in his Institute, which was for peculiar academic reasons the Institute of Mineralogy.
The main interests of Perrier were in fact crystal physics and crystal chemistry, though surely his most important scientific contribution had been the co-discovery with Segre of Technetium. It was his love for crystal physics and chemistry that he passed on to me.
Other people influenced me for other reasons. One was certainly Professor Rolla, professor of general chemistry.
Fumi:Not Mario Rolla. This was Luigi Rolla who was Genoese himself and had returned to Genoa after being professor in Florence. His field of specialty and thus the main field of research in his Institute were the rare earth metals. Rolla was a man with international experience. He gave me a clear view of the international character of science and of the importance of studying books in foreign languages. He was a clear opponent of a certain provincialism which existed in Italian universities in those years.
Rolla, however, was not anymore directly active in research. The most active person in research in the Institute of General Chemistry was Professor Aldo Iandelli, who is still a colleague of mine here in Genoa, and who was then Assistant of Professor Rolla. Professor Iandelli is certainly the other person who had a strong influence on me. He was and still is a physical chemist, working specifically on compounds of rare earth metals and their crystal structures, but with a broad interest in the physical chemistry of metals.
Belloni:What sort of life did you expect to lead as a scientist when you chose this career? What sort of job prospects did you foresee?
Fumi:Well, I think of that important encounter with Perrier early in my university years. It was quite obvious that he was anxious for me to reach my degree in chemistry, to have me then as his Assistant. He also made it very clear that one of the first things he would do would be to send me abroad for further study and research, keeping for me a home base.
So it was fairly clear after my third university year that I would complete my degree in chemistry and then take a degree in physics, while being already the Assistant of Professor Perrier. I would then try to do research in Italy and abroad in the general area of crystallography. The word "Solid State Physics" was unknown in Italy at the time.
Belloni:Sure. How did you choose to go to Pittsburgh first?
Fumi:Well, this again was through the influence of Perrier. It soon became clear — perhaps to his partial disappointment — that I was not particularly well suited for experimental work, but rather more inclined to theoretical work. It is again to his great credit that he accepted this with a completely open mind.
In looking through the pre-war literature available to us, I came upon a series of important papers by Frederick Seitz, published in the Zeitschrift fur Kristallographie in the mid-thirties. These provided formalism for describing the macroscopic and microscopic symmetry of solids, which formed the basis for the symmetry classification of electronic states and more generally of elementary excitations in solids. Seitz's Ph.D. thesis with Wigner in Princeton was actually based on these papers — and not on his earlier calculation with Wigner of the band structure of Na, which also represented a landmark contribution.
So this was your first ...
Fumi:These papers were my first contact with the name of Seitz. This occurred in the years between 1946 and 1948 when I was already the Assistant to Professor Perrier, while completing the work for my degree in physics. I wrote a few short notes on particular points of Seitz's papers. I sent him reprints and we corresponded. So it came rather natural, in choosing a place where to go abroad, to choose Seitz's laboratory. At the time, Seitz was Chairman of the Physics Department at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. Perrier was again instrumental in my winning a fellowship which would enable me to go to Pittsburgh. In 1948 the Fulbright Program was not yet operational and the fellowships to go to do research in America were awarded by a private foundation, the Institute of International Education in New York, but the awarding was made through the Embassy of the United States in Rome. So I was awarded a fellowship in the summer of 1948, the same summer in which I took my physics degree.
The unfortunate thing that occurred then, which greatly influenced my successive career, was the sudden and unexpected death of Professor Perrier, who was only in his early sixties.
Perrier seemed to be a very healthy man: he was a bachelor, completely devoted to science. I remember very well walking with him the evening before his death to the Student House, for which he acted as Resident Director. He appeared in perfect shape, and we discussed the examinations to be given the following day. The morning after, as I was arriving for the exams, I met on the road students coming back from the Institute who told me that Perrier was dead. I took it as a bad joke: I just couldn't consider this to be a true fact. Unfortunately it was the truth.
Fumi:So I left for the States, very happy at the prospects being offered to me, but certainly also sad in my heart. I had lost a man very dear to me. But I would continue to work.
Belloni:Sure. What was your impression of Pittsburgh and the American university?
I was suddenly confronted by a very different situation. Partly this difference arose from the loss of livelihood and vitality that Italian universities had suffered during the war years. There was, however, a clear change of dimension.
The Physics Institute in Genoa was composed at that time of very few people. There were only the professor of experimental physics, Augusto Occhialini (father of Giuseppe Occhialini) and the three assistants of Occhialini, and there was essentially no research activity. Later, one of the assistants, Alberto Bonetti, became a collaborator of Giuseppe Occhialini, when he became professor in Genoa, and did very good research. Anyway, the Physics Institute was composed of one professor, three assistants and two technicians.
At Carnegie Tech I was confronted with a physics department, still relatively small by American standards, but composed of a Faculty of about 30 people, and of a comparable number of graduate students and junior staff.
Professionally speaking, there was for me the discovery of the broad field of solid state physics, of which I had only seen up to then a rather small corner. So the year I spent at Carnegie Tech was essentially devoted to study, in complete agreement with Fred Seitz, with whom we became and continue to be very good personal friends. I attended a few courses: I remember in particular the course on solid state physics, as well as the course on quantum mechanics, given by Seitz and the course on chemical physics given by Parr.
In fact Seitz had suggested that having come to the States, I should spend there more than a year. For the first year the funds were kindly provided by the Institute of International Education. For the following period, funds would be provided by Seitz through the University budget. So, Seitz and I agreed that I could devote the first year entirely to study and delay the beginning of an actual research project to the second year. This is what I did.
During 1948/49, Seitz decided to accept the offer of the University of Illinois through the chairman of the Physics Department, Professor Loomis. Actually the offer involved the transfer from Carnegie Tech to Illinois of a small group of solid state physicists including Professors Maurer and Koehler, and a young Ph.D. by the name of Mapother. They all accepted positions at the University of Illinois starting from the academic year 1949/50. Thus, Seitz kindly offered me to continue my collaboration with him at the University of Illinois, which I naturally accepted.
Starting from September 1949 we were all in Urbana. There I attended two courses: specifically, I followed again the course in solid state physics, which was now given by Seitz, and a good course in statistical mechanics. But I also started on a research project of my own. Naturally, I was influenced by my previous interest in the study of symmetry problems, and the project I did consisted in the application of group-theoretical techniques to problems of the physics of solids and of molecules. More specifically, applications to the study of macroscopic properties of solids, and to the construction of wave functions for organic molecules with conjugated double bonds. These were the pieces of work that I essentially completed in Urbana.
At the same time I was being exposed to the main research interests of the new solid state group in Urbana, directed by Seitz and composed by Maurer, Kohler and Mapother and also by Slichter, a recent Ph.D. from Harvard, and by Lazarus, a recent Ph.D. from Chicago. These interests centered mainly on the study of defects. They studied both the point defects such as vacancies and interstitials — which are equilibrium, defects because they contribute to the entropy of the solid even if they cost energy to create — and the extended, non-equilibrium detects, relevant mainly for the mechanical properties of solids, the dislocations. These studies were carried out by a variety of techniques.
As my stay in America protracted, a friend of mine in the mathematics Institute of the University of Genoa, Professor Castoldi, asked me whether I intended to remain in the States or I considered the possibility of returning to Italy. He had been a schoolmate at Collegia Ghislieri in Pavia of Professor Caldirola who had just been appointed to the chair of theoretical physics at the University of Pavia, and he felt he could put me in contact with him. I replied that I certainly considered a return to Italy with much interest.
So, during a brief summer visit to Italy, I met Professor Caldirola. He suggested that I should complete my stay in America for the time necessary, but he added that he would then be happy to try and have me in his Institute. At the time he was in Pavia, but he soon moved to Milan.
Eventually, it was suggested by Caldirola and by Professor Polvani, the Director of the Physics Institute in Milan, that to assume a position of university lecturer with the academic year 1951-52, I should go to Milan in the Spring of 1951. This was made possible by the award of a Righi Fellowship of the Italian Physical Society.
The choice of course, I would teach in Milan fell on statistical mechanics, as this was the closest course to my area of research then existing in Italian universities: there were no courses of solid state or molecular physics.
Thus I began my stay at the University of Milan in 1951. It was immediately made clear to me both by Caldirola and Polvani that they would see with much favor my taking on younger collaborators, attempting to form a small theoretical group on solid state physics, working on modern lines, such as those that were followed in Urbana and in other places in America and around the world.
An immediate demonstration of these plans was the suggestion by Caldirola to a recent graduate of his, Roberto Fieschi, to shift his interests from cosmic rays to solid state. So Fieschi was my very first collaborator. He worked with me for two years, mainly on macroscopic physical properties of crystals. After that, we decided in complete agreement with Caldirola, that it would be useful for him to have some research experience abroad. Since we had established a good relationship with Professor De Groot (who directed in those years the Institute of Theoretical Physics at Utrecht, and then at Leiden), Fieschi went to work with him. Having worked with me on macroscopic physical properties of crystals, he worked with De Groot on the related field of thermodynamics of irreversible processes in solids.
Belloni:I was going to ask the reason why you didn’t have him go to the States.
Fumi:We really didn't try seriously to have Fieschi go to the States. He was then (and still is) a communist intellectual and we thought this could represent at that time a difficulty for his going to the states. On the other hand, the tradition of solid state physics in Holland was very good, and obtaining a fellowship to go there was relatively easy. In any case, his experience in Holland would be of quite comparable caliber to one in England or France.
Before Fiesch left for Holland, a student of the Collegia Ghislilieri of the University of Pavia, where Caldirola had taught previously, Franco Bassani, came to Milan to ask for a thesis. Caldirola again kindly advised him to work with me in solid state physics. The subject chosen was the study of point imperfections in ionic solids, a field in which I was personally interested in starting research activity, and which was strongly emphasized at the moment in Urbana by Seitz and Maurer. So, Bassani did his thesis with me in Caldirola's theoretical section of the Milan Physics Illstitute, and took his degree at Pavia. He then obtained a fellowship, as I recall from Collegio Ghislieri, to continue his research in Milan. He stayed two years, completing a research project on interactions between point imperfections in ionic solids.
Early in 1954, the opportunity arose to hold a small symposium in Varenna in June 1954, organized jointly by our group (already called the Solid state Group of Milan, though composed of only three people!) and two experimental groups: a small group in Rome led by Dr. Careri, Vlorking then on the physics of liquids, and the group of Professor Giulotto at Pavia, who had earlier been interested in spectroscopy, and was currently working on nuclear magnetic resonance. Naturally, I invited Fred Seitz to attend the symposium, and this provided an excellent opportunity to try to arrange a period of stay in Urbana for Franco Bassani, as I had planned. This was arranged by Seitz very quickly and by fall 1954 Bassani was already in Urbana.
During 1954, another Pavia undergraduate, also from Collegia Ghislieri, came to Milan to do his thesis. His name was Mario Tosi. As in the case of Bassani, Caldirola advised him to do his thesis with me in solid state physics. As thesis subject, we chose to continue the work undertaken with Bassani on point imperfections in ionic solids.
During these Milan years, I spent myself brief periods of work abroad: in 1952 I was again at Carnegie Tech to work with Robert Parr on the theory of the oxygen molecule (which has the peculiarity of having a paramagnetic ground state), and in 1955 at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge to work with Professor Mott on the theory of point imperfections in simple metals.
By the end of 1955, I was appointed to a professorship of theoretical physics, initially at the University of Palermo. However, the University of Milan asked me to teach at the Scuola di Perfezionamento in Fisica.
Belloni:The Scuola di Perfezionamento was a sort of graduate school?
Fumi:Yes, it was and it provided me a good opportunity to continue the contacts with Milan.
With my appointment in Palermo, a rearrangement in our group took place. Fieschi, who had returned from Holland, took the position of lecturer in statistical mechanics that I was leaving, while Tosi followed me in Palermo as my assistant. Bassani, during 1955-56 was spending his second year in Urbana. The research that Bassani did initially in Urbana was actually a continuation of our work on imperfections in ionic solids. However, we had agreed before he left that he would try to shift his interests to an important area of solid state physics which was not yet cultivated in Italy, the band theory of solids and this he did under Seitz's guidance. Tosi, on the other hand, continued work with me on the theory of ionic solids.
I would say that this brings us to the end of the initial pioneering period of' solid state physics in Italy, from 1951 to 1956-57. My own efforts in starting research activity in solid state physics in Italy had essentially been in the theoretical area. However, collaboration had been undertaken with Professor Giulotto's group in Pavia in a combined experimental and theoretical study of point imperfections in ionic solids. The experimentalists involved were, besides Giulotto himself, mainly Gianfranco Chiarotti and Camagni. In fact, Chiarotti did also spend two years of research in Urbana in that period, working on point imperfections in ionic solids, while Camagni spent two years in Leeds working with my friend Roy Shuttleworth on diffusion in metals.
The culmination of this initial period was the Varenna Summer School on Solid State Physics in 1957. I was greatly honored when Polvani, the President of the Italian Physical Society at the time and the man to whom Italian physics owes the foundation of the Varenna School, asked me whether I thought the time was ripe to hold a course on solid state physics, and whether I would be willing to organize it. I accepted the idea enthusiastically. I knew I could count on the warm friendship of Fred Seitz in the organization of the school, and his help extended to the point of securing free air transportation for all the American speakers through the Military Air Transport Service. Another person I knew would greatly help me was Professor Mott of the University of Cambridge, with whom I had collaborated in 1955.
The course took place and it was a rather large one for the times. The lecturers were about 25 and included many most prominent solid state physicists. The general idea was to show the broadness of solid state physics and the wide international activity in it. In England, for instance, solid state represented then the major area of research in physics, while in the States the effort was comparable to that in elementary particle physics.
Belloni:Not to mention Germany and…
Fumi:Not to mention Germany and France, for instance. In 1957, however, the great schools were still in America and in England, as research in Germany was still recovering from the war years, and perhaps this was partly true also for France. There were though, very good schools both in France and in Germany. In fact the lecturers of the 1957 Varenna Course included people from America, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland. It was a truly international gathering. The Varenna Course was in a sense the occasion in which solid state physics was brought to the attention of Italian physics as a whole, through the encouragement and support of Polvani and Caldirola. Essentially, the message was that solid state physics existed on the international scene as a vital and wide branch of physics, and thus had a right also in Italy to vital…
Belloni:What were the facts of this meeting in Varenna as far as Italian physics was concerned?
Fumi:The Course was considered by everyone a great success. There had not yet been summer schools in Europe which covered solid state physics so completely and at such high level. This could only be done, of course, with the strong support of Seitz and Mott in the organization of the course. I definitely remember that several influential lecturers suggested to Professor Polvani that such a course be made a periodic feature of the Varenna School.
After the Varenna Course, many of us felt that the time was ripe to try to unite in a given university a reasonable group of solid state physicists: the group would have to include an experimental section, which is essential for the nature of the field, as well as theoretical people. The choice of the university appeared fairly natural. In Pavia one had Giulotto's experimental group, which had worked mainly in spectroscopy and in magnetic resonance techniques, and which included in particular Chiarotti and Gamagni. So, in Pavia there was a nucleus of experimentalists. There was also in Italy, by now, a nucleus of theoreticians; besides myself, Bassani, who had completed a stay of two years in Urbana, and Tosi, who still had to spend his period of research abroad. So, again through the personal interest of Professor Polvani, my transfer from the chair at Palermo to a chair in Pavia was brought about, effective November 1, 1957.
With November 1957, all of us were in Pavia, except Tosi. He had just begun his period of research abroad: through the kind offices of Professor Mott, he had gone to the University of Bristol to work with Professor Frank on dislocation: theory, an important branch of solid state theory not yet cultivated in Italy. The experimental work on point imperfections in ionic solids was being continued mainly by Chiarotti and Camagni, and Bassani, Giulotto and I were there, so that there was clearly the possibility of doing good work.
Of course, we now needed financial, support of a certain size to be able to set up a solid state laboratory of reasonable strength: this was essential for the experimental activity, but it was also important for the theoretical work. It is fair to say that we received considerable encouragement to establish strong links with the Atomic Energy Laboratory which was being set up at Ispra, and to take responsibility for the starting and the scientific supervision of work in solid state physics at Ispra. In fact, through the offices of Giulotto and myself, Dr. Alfonso Merlini was brought back to Italy from Urbana where he had taken a Ph.D. with Professor Guinier working on X-ray diffraction and was appointed to a post at Ispra. Also Oamagni and some young experimental Pavia graduates moved to Ispra. However, there were unfortunately no credible signs of forthcoming, significant support for the work at Pavia itself.
This state of affairs was still unchanged by the summer of 1959. At this point, Bassani, Tosi (who had returned from Bristol) and I felt that it was perhaps advisable for us to spend another period of time abroad to do our own research in the best conditions. By that time, I should say, a fourth member had been added to the theory group, Vittorio Celli, who had done his thesis with Bassani and myself.
Belloni:I want to ask a question: from your words it is clear that you had no connection with industry in Northern Italy?
Fumi:Polvani actually tried to establish connections between the Milan Physics Institute and industry even before the Milan solid state group was formed back in 1951. Polvani and Caldirola organized lectures of physics at the Montecatini chemical company, and I gave some lectures myself.
Belloni:Quantum chemistry lectures?
Fumi:Yes, I gave a short course on quantum chemistry and a small booklet on it was actually published by Montecatini.
That was the nature of the link. After some solid state activity started, particularly in the experimental area (it is clear that to industry theoretical work would be second in interest), Polvani tried again to establish some links. I remember there was a firm, by the name of Metallux I believe, that was beginning production of metal coated surfaces, there was also a firm by the name of Telettra as I recall, which was interested in the usage of ferrites (ferromagnetic solids) in producing devices, and there was also some talk about the establishment of SGS.
Belloni:The SGS is a state-owned company producing semiconductors.
Fumi:Yes, semiconductor devices. But these contacts never went beyond the stage in which one could see the possibility of placing in industry some young experimental graduates in solid state physics. Perhaps we were impatient but all of us were rather young at that time!
Belloni:I gather from Amaldi's article on the years of reconstruction that there was a sort of division of labor between northern Italy and the school of Rome, meaning that the school of Rome was taking care of so-called fundamental physics, while the northern area, the northern physicists who were in a more industrialized context would take care of applied physics. But I think that most of the applied physics that was then of interest to industry was nuclear reactors.
Fumi:And electronics. CISE was the impersonation, if you want, of the link between research in physics and industry in northern Italy. The bulk of the activity at CISE was in nuclear reactors, low energy nuclear physics in general and electronics, areas for which CISE had been put up largely at industry's expense.
When solid state physics appeared on the Milan scene in the early-to-mid '50's, there was interaction with CISE and a small solid state group was actually set up around Germagnoli. I myself acted as consultant to the group for a while, and their research on point imperfections in metals, more specifically on quenching of point defects in metals — a technique developed in those years in Urbana by Prof. Koehler — was undertaken at my suggestion.
At the time that the Ispra Laboratory was set up, the National Council for Nuclear Research (CNRN) intended that the preparatory research in areas related to nuclear reactors done at CISE be transferred in its entirety to Ispra, including in particular the solid state group. In fact the Germagnoli group chose to remain at CISE, as did other groups of CISE that the CNRN wanted to move to Ispra. The decision of these groups was soon shown to be wise. In fact, within a period of two years or so, from about 1957 to 1959, Ispra, which had been created as a National Laboratory of CNRN, was transferred to EURATOM, and it has since had a rather uncertain existence, without a clear research direction and without a guaranteed funding.
These were, in a sense, side issues to the problem of establishing solid state research in Italy, and of obtaining the appropriate financial support.
Belloni:I see. So there was no industrial laboratory. There was never created an industrial laboratory funded by northern Italian industries.
At the time Italian industry obviously felt that they had done their duty by setting up applied physics research at CISE and at CISE the emphasis on solid state physics was definitely minor.
So, returning to the position that Bassani, Tosi and I shared in 1959, this was that there were no immediate chances of reasonable state support for a university centre of solid state research at Pavia. We were relatively young — I was 35, Dassani just 30 and Tosi only 27 — and we were concerned about our own research productivity, and even more about our research vitality. There was also the younger Celli who in any case would have gone abroad for a period of research. We all decided to return abroad for a period of work, and initially departed in different directions. I went for a period of consulting at the new IBM Research Laboratory at Yorktown Heights and then for a term at Cornell University as Visiting Research Professor, Tosi returned to Bristol to work with Professor Frank, Bassani went to Argonne National Laboratory (near Chicago) and Celli went to Illinois to work with Seitz. However, by the end of 1960, Bassani, Tosi and I were all at the Argonne National Laboratory, where a new Solid State Division had just been formed and a strong theory group was emerging. Personally, I actually had a joint appointment as professor of physics at Northwestern University (also near Chicago) and as senior physicist at Argonne.
Meanwhile in Italy the situation started to evolve slowly. Chiarotti had had the courage to remain in Pavia (for an experimentalist moving to a different laboratory is in fact more difficult than for a theorist) and small groups doing research on solids and related areas started developing here and there. In Milan Fieschi transformed the group, which had been purely theoretical, into a complete group with an experimental section. A group had existed for some time at the Institute Galileo Ferraris in Turin around Montalenti and Ferro, doing work on magnetic materials, and there was Careri’s group in Rome which had shifted its research to liquid helium. Another group had been forming in Genoa around Boato, working on mass spectrometry, and one in Pisa around Gozzini, working on microwave spectroscopy. These various little groups were all receiving some research contract money from the National Research Council (CNR). They started coordinating their activities, first on an informal basis among themselves using the name "Gruppi Italiani di Struttura Della Materia" (GISM), and gradually with more recognition of this coordination on the part of CNR. The prospect that this situation would evolve into a coordinating body within the CNR started to appear realistic.
So, a return to Italy of Bassani, Tosi, Celli and myself started to appear attractive again. Actually, all of us returned in the mid-to-late '60's except Celli, of whom we will speak a little later. Bassani was the first to return in 1963. He won a chair of theoretical physics at Messina where Chiarotti had moved shortly before as Professor of Experimental Physics. I was the second to return in 1966 and, since it proved difficult at first to find a position for me in the North, I returned to Palermo where I had already been a professor from 1955 to 1957. Actually, the Faculty of Science at Palermo invited me very kindly to return there as Director of the Physics Institute and Professor of Theoretical Physics. Tosi returned in 1969 to occupy the Messina chair left by Bassani, who was moving to Pisa.
By 1968, the CNR finally approved the constitution of the National Group of the Structure of Matter (GNSM) as one of its organisms. Actually 1968 was the year in which more or less all the sectors of Italian physics — apart from elementary particle physics and nuclear physics which were already organized in the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) in the middle '50's — were organized in national groups: the groups included, besides GNSM, the Group for Cosmic Physics (GIFCO), the Group for Quantum Electronics and Plasma Physics (GNEQP) and the Group for Biophysics and Cybernetics (GNBC). The Chairman of the Physics Committee of the CNR who carried out this organization was Professor Puppi.
The situation for solid state physics and related areas in Italy had certainly improved considerably, though not through an action directed to strengthen specifically our area of research, nor through an action of industry. It was rather the fortunate circumstance that various sectors of physics had reached a certain stage of maturity that helped us all.
A point that should be mentioned at this stage is that in the earlier years of the 1950's and early '60's, before the formation of GISM, the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) helped the solid state groups in those universities where INFN had a section: this included, for instance, Rome, Milan, Genoa and Pisa, though not Pavia. The solid state theory group that I headed in Milan in the early to mid-fifties had also received some support from INFN, as soon as the Milan section was formed. This role of INFN certainly filled a critical period, permitting some building of strength of these groups, up to the point at which they could form informally the GNSM.
In these national bodies — GNSM, GNSM and CNR — the members of the old Milan and Pavia groups played leading roles. Chiarotti was chairman of GISM when it was formed in 1964 and Bassani served in the executive committee. When Boato became president of GNSM at the time of its formalization in 1968, both Chiarotti and I became members of the executive committee. Furthermore, Chiarotti, Fieschi and I have served in the Physics Committee of CNR, the parent body of GNSM, which coordinated all the research activities in non-nuclear physics.
Certainly, the establishment of GNSM has been very helpful, and one must say that it has permitted a reasonable growth of research in different areas of the broad solid state field, though not an extraordinary growth. I remember that in 1976, at the time of the Rome International Conference on Semiconductors, Bassani and I, interviewed on television, emphasized that it was indeed remarkable that with a total of some 400 physicists working then in all areas of solid state, the even smaller number working specifically on semiconductors had achieved such a good status on the international scene that the periodic International Conference on Semiconductors was being held in Rome.
GNSM has not, however, had the best possible life within CNR. Actually, a short while after the formation of GNSM and of the other national groups, CNR started taking more and more the position that it wanted to support mainly its own laboratories outside universities, and that it considered the national groups, with their more or less numerous research units in various universities, as peculiar bodies, not really part of its true organizational structure.
One can, nevertheless, say with confidence that research in Italy in solid state and related areas, now generally called condensed matter physics, has achieved a very good standard on the international level. The Italian theoretical school is particularly good. One does not mean to imply that the experimental work is not also in good shape, but there are a number of very bright theoreticians.
There have by now also been a number of Italian solid state physicists who have obtained permanent positions in universities and research laboratories abroad, including university chairs, before obtaining a permanent position in Italy. Vittorio Celli, for instance, has been professor at the University of Virginia for more than a decade. We wanted to bring him back to Italy, and in 1972 he won a chair of theoretical physics at the University of Trieste. He stayed in Trieste for about a year but eventually chose to return to Virginia.
In connection with the organizational difficulties of GNSM that I have mentioned, a promising development of the last few years is that the Ministry of Public Instruction (MPI) has started to finance research in university on a reasonable scale, and thus also in the condensed matter area. The idea has come up to coordinate this MPI research funding in our area through an Interuniversity Center for the Structure of Matter (CISM) and this is currently being formed. This might eventually lead to the formation of a National Institute for the Structure of Matter as a research agency of MPI, a very desirable situation entirely analogous to that of the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), which has worked very well for our colleagues in nuclear physics for about thirty years.
Belloni:So, going back to the interaction between the university, the GNSM group and industry, you have something to add?
Fumi:Yes. One of the very first acts that GNSM did upon its constitution in 1968 (an act included, in fact, in its initial statute) was the formation of 3 CNR laboratories outside universities, meant to work in areas of solid state relevant to applications, meant, therefore, to act as interfaces between pure research in universities and applied research in industry. These first three GNSM laboratories were placed in Parma, with Fieschi as its first director, in Rome with Paoletti as its director, and in Pisa, with Gozzini as director. These laboratories have certainly contributed to increasing contacts with the industrial world. Interactions with industries, however, developed also in other cities where there were only research units, and not laboratories, of GNSM. A good example is Genoa, where strong interactions have developed with Ansaldo’s DEA Division and with Elsag.
This increased interaction has led to a considerable increase nationally in the hiring of solid state physicists in industry. In Genoa, this has now been going on for about ten years, and there are already a few physicists in important managerial positions in Genoese industries. This promises well for the continued development of interactions between university and industrial research in solid state. One relevant problem in these interactions is always “language.” The presence of sizeable numbers of physicists in industry, some in managerial positions, who have immersed themselves in the industrial research problems, but have remained physicists, essentially eliminates the “language" difficulty.
Belloni:Ok, let's ask more general questions. You are strictly concerned with research and I don't think you ever wrote any more popular articles or books about your subject.
Fumi:Not really. My only publications of a more popular character are essentially didactic in nature. I can recall the small booklet on lectures in quantum chemistry I gave at the Montecatini in the early fifties. My "prolusione" (or opening lecture) at the University of Pavia in 1957-58 — which was a short review, at a fairly elementary level, of highlights of solid state physics of the day — was published in II Giornale di Fisica, a journal just founded by President Polvani of the Italian Physical Society, and directed mainly to secondary school teachers, but in the hope of Polvani also to industrial readers. I might add that I also wrote the first article on solid state physics for the Encielopedia Italiana Treccani, which was published in the Appendix 1949-60. This was again a presentation at a fairly elementary level of the basic ideas of solid state physics. Both this publication and the one on Giornale di Fisica, were, in a way, efforts to communicate with a larger number of readers, in that they were not too technical.
Belloni:I see. In general, what was the attitude of your colleagues toward popularization?
Fumi:One must admit that we have perhaps not been sufficiently conscious of the importance of this. As you know some of the daily newspapers run now science pages and there have been cases, though not many, in which condensed matter physicists have contributed.
Belloni:Not that I know of.
Fumi:Two names come to my mind, Caglioti of the Polytechnic of Milan and Ascoli of CISE, but there must have been others. Also quite recently, Fleschi has published a book of a popular nature on solids. On the other hand, one might say that it is perhaps easier, in a sense, to popularize discoveries in fields such as astrophysics or elementary particles than in a field like condensed matter. The nature of those fields more easily attracts the attention of the general public…
Belloni:…like Black Holes…
Belloni:That's true. I have another question that I left out and did not put at the proper chronological point. What was your wife's background, education, when you met, and has your wife had a separate career?
Fumi:My wife Lina Buiatti has a degree in architecture from the University of Venice. She started a professional career as assistant in the School of Architecture in Florence, and from there she won a scholarship of the Fulbright Program to go to the states. She came to Urbana, where I was research associate in physics, and there we met. Our acquaintance actually grew in the Urbana house of a rather famous Italian economist, Franco Modigliani, who was at that time associate professor at the University of Illinois. It was in Urbana that Lina and I decided to marry.
Belloni:Did she design this nice villa?
Fumi:She certainly made contributions. My father was a man of fairly definite convictions, but Lina gave the general ideas of a two floor structure and of the subdivision of space in each of the two floors.
Belloni:Thank you very much, Professor Fumi.