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Interview of Roberto Fieschi by Lanfranco Belloni on 1983 July 8,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Early education at Università di Pavia and Collegio Ghislieri; political involvement in the post-liberation years; experience in Holland (Utrecht and Leiden); postgraduate work with Fausto Fumi and Piero Caldirola's encouragement; evangelizing at Università di Genova and Università di Pisa and first experimental group in Milano; in 1965 Chair at Università di Parma and subsequent establishment there of a Consiglio nazionale delle richerche laboratory for the study of "materials for electronics;" attitude of Italian Communist Party leaders toward science and technology issues over the last decades, from the days of Stalinism to the autonomous stand of today; situation of a Communist physicist during the 1950s and post-1950s.
Ok, I am in Professor Fieschi's office at the department of physics, University of Parma, July 8, 1983. Professor Fieschi, I know you were born in Cremona, northern Ita1y, in 1928, but I don’t know anything else about your family, who were your parents, what did they do?
My father was professor of medicine at the university, and my mother had her graduation in pharmacy, but after the first few years she did not practice. She was just a housekeeper, housewife. (By the way, you must excuse; my English is very poor, so I know the ones who will have to make the words out of the tape will have great difficulty, but I cannot do much better than that.)
It’s all right. So, you went to secondary school in Cremona?
No, no. I was just born in Cremona, but I spent my first 21 years of life where my father was working at the university as assistant.
So you went to the high school in [???].
Yes. I was at the [???] as the high school.
There were no grades there?
At that time, it was unusual, that some bourgeois families went through difficulties [???]. It was an idea of my father, according to whom it was more important to have more knowledge in mathematics and more knowledge in foreign languages than Greek. I think it was from his side, and I am grateful to him for this choice.
I see. Were there any secondary school teachers, perhaps other people, who had a strong influence on you in those years when you were in high school?
Yes, sure. I think I had, most of my teachers were very good, and some had some influence on my education. I could mention especially the professor of philosophy at the time who was one of the few Italian philosophers inclined to give much emphasis on the importance of science in the development of human thought. His name is Julio. I think he was one of the best Italian philosophers.
Yes, I think he wrote a history of scientific thought, from antiquity to [???] — and was one of the followers of [???] — Maybe he was not a follower, but he started (crosstalk) of philosophers, and was a very important figure in Italian philosophy. He was teaching at that time.
I would say, indirectly — because he did not speak of politics during the lectures — indirectly, he had influence also on my political trend, my future political trend. He belonged to the left wing. These years, I must remember, my last year was the one of the Italian liberation.
‘45. And so, the political feeling among the young people was strong.
I can imagine.
And the other professor was a lady, who is also the sister of an Italian professor of physics. She was an excellent teacher, and through her teaching, I liked already mathematics, and I started loving physics as well. I think, due to her I chose physics as my university study.
You went to Collegia.
I went to Collegia [???] yes. When I decided to teach physics, my father was not against, but physics was a little bit strange at that time. We were one or two students in those years. And so my relatives suggested that the first year I should have chosen engineering, which was the same examination, so I could decide for physics after one year of reflection. And that is what happened. I was first in engineering.
You were first in the engineering school, and then you switched from engineering to physics?
Yes, I had only one more examination for design, I think, but the other examinations were the same, so I could easily shift to physics in the second year.
Yes, there’s very little different in the curriculum, the engineering school and physics.
The first two years there was no difference,
I gather that since your parents were both graduated, you expected to go to college from an early age?
Yes, My father influenced me. According to him, the best career was a university career, and that’s the way he influenced me, and I think he was right. He was right also in proposing to me to go to the [???] where the intellectual climate, especially at that time, was very lively. We had maybe too much, because we had so many discussions and meetings on different subjects that the physics and mathematics suffered.
Well, after all, it was right after the war, 1945/46. And what about your undergraduate teachers? I guess you found [???] was there, assistant to Professor [???] was there.
Yes. I would say, I was not so very much impressed by the teachers of the first two years. They were traditional teachers, typical mathematical professors who came into the class, said, “[???] and started writing, and then left without even looking into our eyes. And so it was very formal. And I had some difficulties in going from the [???] where (lycee?) where the discussion was more free, to the university when there was such a great separation.
A formal kind of teaching there.
A very formal kind of teaching. It was better the third and fourth year. You know in Italy it’s four years. Where I met full professors like [???]. I regret that I did not appreciate [???] as I should have done — as I could have done — Professor [???] who is a really great physicist, with a deep insight in physics, but as a professor, he was very shy. He spoke with a very soft voice, and we hardly understood what he was saying. Different with [???]. He has great impact, immediate great impact and he’s a marvelous teacher.
A very brilliant teacher. I was at the institute of [???] so I can —
— so you can judge.
I think [???] was one of the staff there of the [???]. He was just a young professor. He won competition for a chair at [???].
‘47, with [???] Competition of ‘47 was the third competition. They had competitions for chair in political theory; the first one was in ’27. They had [???] and [???]. Then in ’37 was the historian. Jack [???] in ‘47, so I think he was practically the only theoretical physicist around, quantum theoretical physicist.
Yes. He had a young assistant who came, I think, from Padua, [???] who was very friendly and helped us during our studies. [???] was very active at that time, and I think the best students were with him, asking for thesis and so on.
Sure. [???] studied with him.
[???] went to [???], for his thesis, to Professor [???] and [???] or perhaps with Fumi.
Fumi, [???] was sort of a joint — as a matter of fact it was Fumi who was advisor and (?’s) sponsor.
But my thesis was with [???].
Your thesis was with [???] in solid state.
It was on cosmic radiation, theoretical physics on phenomenological theory of cosmic radiation.
Cosmic radiation. So you started in the Italian tradition of theoretical physics of cosmic rays. In addition it was already established, with Fermi and was particularly strong. And how were things with [???]? I don’t think he was very much enthusiast for this kind of cosmic rays.
No, I think he developed a model which had some success at the time, and I wrote my thesis with [???]. We had to perform longer computations, and at that time, there were only the mechanical, even not electrical, computing machines. So it was a terrible job. I think what we did in six months could have been done now better in a few minutes you know. I had to work with (the very quick?) tables in which I had to look into the library, astronomic library, with twelve decimals because I needed to compute with very high precision. But I did not like this work at all, but it was my job then.
I see; and after [???] there was an experimental period?
— period, yes.
OK. So, the theoretical part of physics cosmic rays — what was your position after [???]. You got a grant?
The first year, I had nothing. My father supported me. And tried to help me, giving me some lectures somewhere, but it was very little. The second year, I think I had support — assisted —.
No, a little bit more than assistant, assistant [???] which gave me 200,000 lire per year? That was more than it would be now, but it was absolutely insufficient to survive. So, I still am grateful to my father for supporting me. I couldn’t live without.
I see. So you continued research in [???]?
No. Immediately after that period, which was in ‘50 — [???] was in Milano, so I moved to Milano. And I stayed there two years. The first year I was just reading and studying a little bit more, because when one comes out from university, one doesn’t know much. I was reading (?’s) book on field theories, but then [???] suggested that I shift towards solid state of what we called more generally here, structure of matter. Then, at same time, I don’t remember exactly when, it may be ‘51, ‘52, [???] told to me (called to me?) — I think he was in the United States at the time, but you know, you remember —.
— yes, they managed to have him back to the [???].
Yes. He came back, and I got to study some solid state with him. I worked with the man who graduated at the time. I did my graduation, [???] who then went to [???]. Yes, he went to France, —
[???] chemical firm —
— chemical firm, yes, he went to France to [???] and now be works for [???]. He’s a counselor.
The National Committee for Alternative Energies.
That’s it. He started the nuclear energy for — (crosstalk). And under Fumi’s guidance, [???] and I studied some mathematical physics,tensors in increase or difference in increase. And so we studied some group theory and we did some calculation on tensors of high [???] in different systems. That was done, not continuously, but for some years.
And that was within the framework, what little support you received was within the framework of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics [???] which was founded August ‘51.
Not yet at that time. That was later.
That was later?
Yes, that was at the time we were, just with this weak bond to the university.
Subsequently, as Fumi was also going abroad, he suggested to me to try to find a scholarship to go to some place in Europe where I could learn more. There was the chance — on morning he talked to me, I heard from the radio, that there was a scholarship for Holland. In Holland this kind of study was well developed. It was in their tradition. So I applied for the scholarship, and I got half a scholarship. I think the full scholarship was 80,000 lire a month, so I got 40,000, which was nearly sufficient to have in a country (where living) was very cheap at that time, so I went to Utrecht. And I stayed two years. The scholarship (fellowship?) was renewed the following year, in ’53. There I studied first some statistical mechanics, applied to systems, to Hod sphere systems, with Professor [???] who was a very good teacher at the University of Utrecht. He told me statistical mechanics, which I, in which I had only the lecture during the course of [???] in theoretical physics.
That was the famous [???] by Fermi, which subsequent developments — .
Yes. It was more due to the Dutch School of [???] was the pupil of [???] who got during these years the Nobel Prize. That was a good time for me. [???] was one of the professors who taught me very well. Yes. And the second year in Holland, I shifted to thermodynamics at the University of [???] with Professor [???] who was very famous at that time, and I wrote some papers with him, in the [???] and the collection of these papers was the subject of my PhD thesis in Leyden. The second year I was at the University of Leyden, so I passed my PhD.
And you went back to Italy?
Then I came back to Italy, where, I don’t remember if I had any kind of position, but either ‘54 or ‘55, perhaps ’55, my professors found form a contract for teaching at the University of (Parma?) so I went to teaching at (Parma?) what we call laboratory physics, which actually was not laboratory physics, because I was not able, but it was problems in classical physics. I had a lot of students, the first and only time when I had many students, I gave many many examinations; I think 200 a year or something. As you know, while one is teaching, one learns a lot, so I would think better on many problems which I should have known in classical physics.
Sure. I had this opportunity too. When you came back, ok, you went to this teaching. Who else was carrying on some advanced research in solid state? Did you feel alone when you came back from Holland?
There was nobody in (Parma?). Actually I studied in Milan. I went to (Parma?) only for teaching, so my center for studying was the University of Milano. Well, Fumi, who part of the time, was abroad and part of the time I think in Milano followed us and me, for this work on tensors, tensors in crystals, and in the meantime, we started studying classical textbooks on solid state physics, on which subject we knew practically nothing. And I did it with some other young people, practically by myself, without much support from professors.
Well, I think it was (Cattel?) test, the first Cattel text, which had many problems, and so we had to solve the problems and get acquainted with the subject. And for the study, this was the time of ColoCenter and so we followed the fashion and started studying ColoCenters. That was the famous Martin-Germi book.
Which came out in ‘55?
I think ‘55, yes. And the first Seitz paper on modern physics, which were our Bible. I started also with more calculation on the energy of ions in crystals, on the energy for creating vacancies, but I never finished it, and then it was taken by Bassani and further on by [???].
The next step was, again, on suggestion of Professor Fumi, was to study electronic properties of simple molecules. He had some model to simplify the calculation, because the computational of [???] were terrible at that time. One had to find drastic simplifications. Otherwise it was difficult, unless one had a very big as the English and the Americans had. The main difficulty was to find the simplification which allowed us to carry on the computation. And I did a little work on [???] molecule. I went to Sweden on a conference. And then in ‘55, I went again abroad for half a year to Sweden, to Sala, with Professor [???] who had a good group. With him I studied the symmetries properties of wave function, atomic wave functions. We wrote a report which was never published, on finding the proper symmetry of different states of electrons.
I see. During your stay abroad, you never thought of migrating or leaving Italy?
Not really. I like better — perhaps I didn’t have the chance, nobody offered me to stay ... (crosstalk) yes, because —... No, I, either I did not have the chance, or I did not like it. Anyway I came back to Italy.
So you came back to Italy. In general, what was the position of people working in theoretical solid state vis-a-vis other physicists working in say nuclear physics or particle physics, cosmic ray problems, this kind of thing? They had already their [???] and so forth. They were starting much support for the research. CERN was starting. I mean, the specialty was growing. What were the problems of, general problems; research or [???] material?
It was what was called [???] material. We had some financial support, because the university salary was very low, from the Institute [???] which, under the direction of had a very broad minded attitude, and in spite of the name, which bound the Institute to study nuclear physics, they supported most other fields of physics, anybody in solid state. For the financial help for doing research, this was a difficult time. From the Institute in Milano we had no personal difficulties whatsoever. The difficulties started when, at the suggestion of [???] and Fumi, perhaps more [???] we tried to start some experimental activities, and when some of the best students started joining us, that was more or less when Fumi left Milano and —
— went abroad —
— went abroad or won a chair, I don’t remember what happened exactly. But we tried to start an experimental activity, having no leader who could do that, so —
The time was about?
Maybe ‘58. Let me interrupt — I don’t think you mentioned who was —
— we were in contact, because we are also good friends and the distance is not much, and the university was one year after me and so we knew each other very well, So we were influenced from what they were doing at (Parma?), And we started on properties of alkali hallides. We started actually trying to grow crystals. I remember the first oven we made. We had the help of a strange physicist who doesn’t like to be, how shall I say?
— labeled —
Labeled. So he knew a lot of things, He was able to do a lot of things with his hands, and he helped us to make the first oven. But that was very ridiculous, because we made it in such a way that if the resistance was broken, we had to dismantle it completely with the heat because it was indeed — (crosstalk) yes, summer, yes. Anyway, we succeeded in doing something. Then we started, as usual in this field, with the most simple technique, which is optical absorption measurement, and the moment we could buy the Beckman Spectrometer, and guide it, as it was at that time, we started doing some measurements on absorption of crystals. At the same time, I had connections with the Institute of Genoa, where they were working with simple crystals of noble gases, argon especially. They were doing, they had the technique of mass spectrometry and with this technique they were measuring the diffusion, perfusion, in liquids and in solid phase. So we started trying, growing our own crystals, and we made an apparatus. We reached some success. But then we did not have the means to go on studying the physical properties of these crystals, so we left this field. In the meantime, I was also going on with some of my older calculations on molecules. We had a student, who made them with me, and subsequently another lady, who is now a professor at Milano. [???] moves later on to Germany, married a German physicist of the group of [???]. With [???] we started the study of simple liquids. I was interested by the Genoa group. So we calculated the rate of pressure, the wave of pressure, of simple liquids, with models which I would not support now. They were simple models. We did some work. So during my first years, I had a little experience in many fields. In the meantime, the experimental group was growing. We had at a certain moment a very very good student perhaps the best which was available in the department,[???] who is now also professor in Milano. And he helped us with the — with great skill, in fixing the apparatus and performing the experiments. The difficulties, you were mentioning the difficulties. The group grew up to eight people at that time. Some just graduated without any position, or perhaps some were teaching secondary school and coming to the lab to do their research. And there was no space. There was no space for sitting and the experiments. So for the experiments, we had to go to the cantina.
The cantina, basement.
The basement, which was in [???]. It was [???]
— impossible to work -–
— according to every rule, it was (off tape) ... I will say, it should have been forbidden. There was terrible moisture, which also was not good for the apparatus. But still, we could do our preliminary work there. And for the desks, that was also a problem. We could have only a little room of, I remember I measured it, 12 square meters, and as we were eight, I had to buy very very small desks, which were 1.10 meters long and 80 centimeters wide. It was the way we could seat all of us. Only one of the people, Sabbati [???] was speaking loud, so it was very hard to work. But we could manage. We were young, with much enthusiasm.
Professor [???] told me in his interview that around the late fifties, there were some contacts with industry people, like people at the SGS and [???]. So what kinds of work were you carrying out that would interest some industry, high technology, like [???]? There were already a few of these firms?
Yes, there were contracts that were kept by Fumi and perhaps [???]. But actually, for us, nothing turned out from these contacts. So we were working alone, according to the traditional university style in Italy. And probably it was I because at that time, especially at Parea and Milano, there were the first good groups in Italy. I don’t want to exaggerate —
— they were the only groups.
The only groups, yes. So if we could have had these contracts (contacts?) earlier, maybe the development would have been much quicker, and perhaps we would have left earlier the alkali halides, which were just a good means to start, but not so very interesting, Actually, in these years the Americans were already increasing their emphasis on the alkali halides, and increasing their work in semiconductors.
OK, did you travel frequently to the States to — how did you keep up with the research?
We went to the international conferences, not many, because the amount of money for it was very little. I never went to the United States. I went only ten years ago for a conference. I know little of the United States.
Has this something to do with the visa problem? Because of your political — those were the days when the United States was not willing to — I imagine, even if you applied for a visa to do scientific work in a laboratory, there would have been problems.
Yes, This was one of the reasons why I did not apply, because I was afraid they would not have given me the visa. But actually when I applied, I didn’t have any difficulties. I remember, I was in the consulate in Milano, and they asked me, on the form, if I belonged to a left wing party, and I wrote, “Yes, the Italian Communist Party.” And they said, “Now we are not authorized to give you the visa here.” I asked again, “What should I do?” “We have to ask Rome. Sit there for a moment.” They went to the telephone, called Rome, and after five minutes, they said, “OK.” So it was the simplest thing. I was astonished, because in Italy, everything is a — even simpler, simple things are so complicated. So I got my visa without any restrictions.
That was in [???]
Oh, it was ten years ago.
That was much later, much later.
Would you talk a bit about your political activities? When did you engage? I think you were always interested in politics?
Yes, more or less, since the liberation, since I went to University. At that time, I started working a little bit on the side of the Communists. Well, just after the liberation, I belonged to the Italian Socialist Party. Then in ‘47 the Socialist Party split, into right and left, as Socialists usually do, so I did not belong to any. I was rather depressed. So I started working, without being a member, a little bit with the Communist Party. Going to the meetings of the Communist Party and discussing. I had difficulties within my family. My father was against the Communist Party, so he asked me not to belong as a member, and I followed his suggestion, or I should say better, his pressure, under his pressure. I became a member of the Communist Party I think in ’55.
I see. Was there any special interest on the part of the Communist Party for research problems, problems of scientific work and — any maybe concern with — I mean, the working class?
No, they were not interested. They were not organized. They did not know anything practically. I remember when I went, I became a member of the trade union, of the left wing trade union, CCL, trade union of labor, so when I went to the central office in Milano, I said, “I would like to have a card, inscription of the trade union” and they said, “What do you do?” “I teach at the university.” Then they said, “To which category do you belong?” “I teach at the university so the state pays me.” They did not know where to put me. So they put me among the employees of municipalities, state employees or employees of municipalities. This was really the lowest possible. And that went along for many years, before the Italian Communist Party realized the importance of science.
There were already [???] also the Rome groups that were active in the Communist Party or tried to be active in the party, the Rome group. I don’t think in Milano and in northern [???]
I think in the whole university, [???] was the only one. I am grateful to my bosses that I had no difficulties for that, or at least very slight difficulties. It was unusual because I think in every other field, not to speak about medicine or law; a communist would have had difficulties in having a career at the university.
Yes, in professional fields, or — although, in Rome, there were [???] was considered a Communist for a long time. Without actually being a Communist, he was considered.
Is it so? I have —
— sure, he was in the first negotiations for CERN, He had a little trouble with the ambassador, the Italian ambassador in Paris. He actually attended a meeting of the UNESCO in Paris, as an expert on [???], not as an expert on the Italian government. He was called by [???].
I did not know.
Because the Italian ambassador was absolutely against; the Italian ambassador said, if he came in, he would have gone out of the room.
But Amaldi is against the Communist Party. He has always been against it, against in a clever way, I mean, in an honest way.
Well, he told me that during the war, he was a sympathizer with [???]. The non-Communist left, sort of a liberal, liberal in the American sense — not right but liberal. And so after the war, he did not take an active interest in politics. But as a matter of fact, he was considered to be a crypto-communist.
Those were difficult times.
Those were difficult times, and he had some trouble, not that much, some trouble in certain negotiations that were between governments. For instance, when there were the negotiations for CERN, The National Committee for Nuclear Research, there were suspicions on the part of the politicians of Communist physicists that were in nuclear affairs. There was a good deal of suspicion of this. Of course, for solid state, there was no — there were too few to —
Actually, some of the pupils of Amaldi are, some of the people in elementary particle work, were Communists, I remember [???] in the field of microwave, he was a Communist, and among his group many were Communists. Now he is no more. Concerning the, so to say, political activities, what we did in these years was to establish some kind of a trade union of scientists, of physicists, actually, independent of the official trade union, called the Trade Union Association of Physics Researchers.
I see. Was it connected with the scientific work at the university?
It was not officially connected with that work, it was independent, and it had some role in the organization of physics in Italy. No scientific trade union problems.
Like discussion of salaries, positions, that sort of thing.
And for one year I was secretary of this group.
That was about?
I really don’t remember the year, I think early sixties.
The early sixties. By the time of the early sixties, I guess you were already, I mean what was your position in the university? You became professor of statistical mechanics?
I was teaching, yes, professor of statistical mechanics in Milano. I left Parma. Moreover, I had some teaching duties first in Genoa and then in Pisa for a short while, yes.
Yes, where I went to give not many lectures, but especially to have connections with the people there.
In Genoa with Fumi?
In Genoa, no. It was with [???]. Fumi was not in Genoa then. So I could learn more about the work from, in solid state.
It was with [???] was there, because they wanted to start a solid state group, and so they wanted to have some lectures on solid state. And actually after my staying there they started some work in solid state.
The group of [???]
Yes. [???] himself was not interested in solid state, but first [???] then [???], they worked on magnetic resonance. We did some simple work on poly crystals. So I had some merit in the development of solid state in Pisa.
[???] the Italian university. OK, you were very few. But were there, I don’t think there were major completing interpretations of important research problems or —
— no. At the present time we had our space, we had our budget, from the National Research Council, [???] and so, we could really be established as an independent group.
[???] was beginning?
In Milano, it was with the help of Caldarola at the beginning, because Fumi had no contacts with Milano at that time.
So it was Caldarola who without being in theoretical solid state physics always encouraged?
Yes. He was convinced that in Italy, there was too little physics in this field, and he encouraged us, first calling Fumi from abroad, and then us autonomously to go on in this line, and he found for us financial support from the CNR and then we have become completely autonomous.
So then gradually an organization grew within the CNR, several groups, a group other groups were forming, etc., in the Italian universities?
In the group [???] Matera, in the initial group which was made up of, say, eight or ten groups, I was one of the few who had not a chair, but as always has been in physics in Italy. There was no kind of discrimination among the big bosses and the youngest who were growing, so —
— no discrimination?
No discrimination. No. I would say it’s only in physics in Italy that this is true; perhaps in genetics or something. But in other fields, it would have been impossible for one who had no chair to have economic autonomy and be —
— and support for research, on the same footing as a full professor.
And who were the other full professors?
Giotto [???], Fumi, Cassini, and afterwards [???]. Then there were some older ones [???] in Naples, [???] in Ferrara. But I remember, since our group was doing better research at that time than the group in Ferrara, especially considering the fact that the leader of the group in Ferrara was a full professor and rector of the university, we had a budget five times bigger than theirs. That was something, yes. There was also a group in Turino, a man named [???]. Among the founders of the group in [???] was [???].
I see. And you eventually got a chair in which subject?
I got a chair I think in ‘65, in (???) materia.
A new chair and a new, the Italian denomination of [???] materia, which includes solid state, liquids —
— atoms and molecules as well.
Atoms and molecules. There’s a different grouping than the one; I mean that, subdivision of physics adopted by American physics. It’s different — it overlaps solid state and atoms and molecules. This is a sort of fundamental, [???] materia is a fundamental course for physics majors for 30 years.
It deals with, presents the experimental part of modern quantum physics as a matter of course.
So that was an important chair in the physics department, in the physics curriculum?
Yes, it is. It’s one of the main courses.
One of the main courses. That was in Milano in ‘65, after —
In Parma, I was called to Parma. I had the impression, although I cannot prove it, that some of the professors in Milano would not have been so happy at having me as full professor, because of my political position. These things cannot be said for sure. Anyway, there was an open position in Parma, and I was let to come here. I found an institute where there were — it was an Institute where most of the professors who had been called, with tenure, with a chair, did not stay more than a very few years — one or two, perhaps three years. So they left the university, the Institute, bringing with them the best researchers.
Without establishing a school? They did not establish a school?
They did not establish a school, except the last one, [???] who established three groups, one on power? One on diffusion in metals, and one, started also positron [???] ulation.
When he died, [???] was working with Pisa—
— yes —
— laboratory near Milano, and I think to the end.
He died when I came here; more or less at the same time. He helped me to come here. And then he died. He was already ill. So I found the three small groups, some good researchers, many who were not very active, and since I decided to stay in Parma, not try to find a —
— not try to find a job somewhere else?
— I had the problem of asking the best people which I was able to find to come here. That’s what I did. Some of my previous students in Milano, some from abroad, who were, who had been visiting in the United States, or who had been abroad for some years, I tried to have them come here. And then, in a relatively short time, we had a good group here.
Most of them have got a chair some years later.
What were the research problems you were interested in? What was the field that you were most engaged in?
My main field was still properties of ionic crystals, electronic, optical and electrical properties of ionic crystals. During my last year in Milano, with the [???] group, we were studying at that time absorption and emission of luminescence — ionic conductivity. During my last year in Milano, with the [???] group, [???] is now professor here, we developed an original method to measure the release of frozen-in polarization in ionic crystals, a method which we called ionic conductivity, which competes with the dielectric loss measurements and with conductivity . We discovered later on that it was a way to discharge a weak thermoelectric, but the connection between ionic crystals and electricity was not known, in spite of the fact that interactions later start in a way or another way thermoelectric, electric, And that method gave us some, was recognized abroad, and it was adopted by ten or fifteen laboratories abroad, so we had our best scientific success due to this method, which was taken later on by the Professor [???] who also graduated with us, and she went from developing it and bringing it to a very sophisticated level. Moreover, I went on following the other researches, and also I was engaged in establishing a new laboratory called the National Research Council. We succeeded in having in Parma a laboratory of the National Research Council, which has the aim of working on solid state materials, with more emphasis on the possible applications.
So, the relationship with the local industries was different from what we have now. Now, we do not have much contact or influence from industries. Did the situation change here?
No, it did not change much. There is no local industry that is interested in these things in the region, so our contacts — we tried hard to have contacts with the industries, the SDS for instance, and with others.
Who are just on the outskirts of Milano?
Yes, and we dealt with [???] and with others as well, with industry, on conducting materials. The [???] was on two lines, magnetic materials, permanent magnets, ferrites mainly but also alloys, metal alloys, and the semiconductors. In both fields, we had some contracts, but not so official. A researcher here had a contact with a researcher over in industry, doing some work together, but we did not go too far, until at a certain point, we had a better contact with the laboratory of [???]. They gave us, more recently, equipment they could not use because of a change of programs, to — modern equipment to grow crystals of the kind, 3, 5, [???] semiconductors. And then after that the laboratory chose a more clear line, working on galli masonite and now I think it is the best laboratory in Italy that is able to grow crystals of galli masonite, and actually, it is involved in the program at [???] to finalize the program, over the National Research Council, on materials for electronics.
You don’t have that much interaction with industry?
Not much interaction, in spite of the fact that we did not ask money of the industry. We said only, we would do this and this and this, let us discuss if there are some points, we found difficulties. The SDS is busy with its own problems, and so maybe they asked now and then.
Consulting, yes. Moreover the SDS is on silicon, so they have better relations; they have good relations with another laboratory of the National Research Council which is in Bologna where they work on silicon. This is always the problem in Italy. It is getting better, but nothing as compared with the United States or with other countries.
Have you ever been on the editorial boards of Italian journals?
I am on the editorial board; let me see, a moment —
Have you ever been an editor or on the editorial board of a journal?
I am on the editorial board of SOLID STATE COMMUNICATIONS. I think since ten years or so, and this is a real work. I receive the papers and have to decide the referees and so on. Moreover, I am on the editorial board of CRYSTAL LATTICE DEFECTS IN AMORPHOUS MATERIALS, but I have done practically nothing for that. That’s for the scientific publications. Then I am on the editorial board of an Italian review of the Italian Physical Society, that is, PHYSICS AND TECHNOLOGY, and on the editorial board of other Radical [???] publications, not strictly on science. It is this one, SCIENTIFIC WORK, which is of the Federation of Scientific Workers, and a publication of general culture, which is [???] FIONI, I am in the direction. And I am on the editorial board of a recent publication on diffusion of scientific knowledge and critics of science, which is SCIENCE AND EXPERIENCE,
I see. SCIENCE AND EXPERIENCE, is it Italian?
(gives title in Italian)
Oh yes, I have heard about it.
It started in March, ’83. Just now and for that publication, I have to write every month a short comment on the program of the nuclear arms race.
That’s your last concern, last political concern. Before I get to the subject of your extra-physics, extra-scientific interests, which you discussed earlier, I would like to ask another personal question, about your family. What was your wife’s background and education, and about your family life?
When we met, my wife was a student of the last year of the faculty of art. She wrote her thesis, Italian thesis, on the period we were in Holland and she passed her examination when we came back. Then later on, the first years, she was housekeeper, and then she went teaching in the secondary schools. That is what she does now. I have three sons and daughters, actually two daughters and one son. What else? My daughter is 28 and she left the house, and the others are still with us.
I see. Ok, let’s go back to the, as I said, your political interests.
Ok, I’ll use the other tape for political questions to Professor Belloni
You just mentioned that when you were attending a meeting of the Communist Party in Milano, you are in the same political circle as Professor [???], a noted philosopher of science, who had always been a critic toward the cultural policy, let’s say, of the Italian Communist Party. Professor [???] was an early follower of [???] and neo-positive philosophy, and he always charged the Italian Communist intellectuals with a sort of a badly disguised idealism. He always accused, charged the Italian Communists were not really materialists, philosophers, followers of materialist philosophy, but followers of an idealist philosophy, and because they did not really show any interest to the philosophical problems of science, of scientific education, and to the role of science in society. They were sort of followers of [???] with just a paint of red. That was more or less the accusation of [???]. He had always been in a critical position, wrote a book on Galileo, in which he stressed, it was translated into many languages including English, in which he stressed that antagonism between the political , the cultural policy of Galileo and the cultural policy of the Church — and many people thought, I think that it was sort of an autobiographical book, because in a way, in the background, one could see the struggle between [???] cultural policy and the Communist Party cultural policy program. You were an active scientist. You were doing science, and at the same time you were publishing in the cultural intellectual life of an Italian political party. What was your stand in this respect? Did you agree with [???] or not?
Well, during the (iron?) days, certainly there was much rigidity in the Italian Communist Party, following the Stalin line, more or less. But that was not particularly in science. It was in painting, linguistics, sociology, psychoanalysis and so on. And so, the idea of the leaders of the party was not to touch too much the subject which could bring trouble with the Soviet Union. That I think is until say ‘50 to ’55. Then the problem was not so much that the leaders were in favor of Croce and [???] but that their cultural information was not scientific. I never felt any difficulty, personally — when I speak, when I discuss something, with my friends in the party listen to me as to any other person. If they have objections, they say, but no prejudice in this respect. Only ignorance. And this is the reason which I mentioned, the fact which I mentioned already, that there was no attention to the problems of science, until ten years ago, when the attention to the problems of science was strong but abstract. So, the Communist Party realized that science and applied science were important issues, but without knowing how to organize the contribution of scientists to the possibility of really managing a modern country, That has come only later, and with difficulties. So, according to me, the difficulties are not of principle but of organization.
There was an active organization of the Young Communist Party that — usually it is a well-organized party in most respects.
Yes, you see, it is supposed to be a well-organized party. I would say that it is only better organized than the other parties, but badly unorganized. That could be, to sound strange to Americans, but most of the things which I have done in the Communist Party, with respect to the problems of science and of technology, I have done by myself. The Communist Party gives me the support I ask, but they cannot take the initiative. Now it is much better, of course. Now we have a section on science and technology. But still it is badly unorganized.
Anyway, you started writing popular articles, soon, or?
I wrote some popular articles for the newspaper of the Communist Party, (Unitas?) —sometimes on science. But you know that it is always difficult for scientists to write articles for general people, because we are used to think on every word, so to write an article of six pages takes oh, three weeks to me, even if it is the simplest subject. So I wrote something on solid state. I collaborated with the MONTHLY REVIEW of the Communist Party, which is [???] which gladly accepted. It was the only one which accepted regularly contributions from scientists. It was — really, if I could, if I or other friends of mine collaborated, they accepted gladly, the collaboration on diffusion of knowledge. That was mainly not on the political issues concerned in science and technology. And later, I wrote a book that was asked to me by [???] as you know, on the problem of the diffusion of technology, or the technological innovation, to be more precise, which is a subject in which very little is done in Italy. So it is not a firsthand contribution. I wrote, I think, 200, I read 200 papers in the foreign reviews, and I tried using also my experience as director of this laboratory, the difficulties of the connections, and I tried to give some suggestions. This is the book you see —
Then you wrote another popular book for publishing house, in these past years, had more success.
That had more success. It is on the history of materials. The name is FROM THE STONE TO THE LASER; on the history of materials, from antiquity until the electronic revolution. This is a popular series, which is written in very simple language, and I did much effort to write it in very simple language. I think I succeeded. Actually it is appreciated. But the story is that when the chief editor — I think every month come out two of these books — not on science, some on science — when I propose other collaborations, the chief editor is always suspicious if the title doesn’t deal with history or philosophy of politics. One of the subjects, one of the best which has recently appeared, to me, is THE HISTORY OF IRON AND STEEL, which has been written by a man who is one of the [???] directors, leading figures in that state firm. He is very good. But the chief editor didn’t like to have a book on iron and steel. The title is effective now. They appreciate that something is clearly written, especially in these days when we have the problem of limiting the output of our —
— the imposition from the European Community to reduce the production of steel in Italy —
Yes. They realize at last that this is a very important issue.
Ok. So in a way, [???] was right, because —
— yes —
Ok, they understand for instance, they realize the importance of diminution of certain aspects, for instance, iron and steel, when the political issue comes up, but without having a general orientation.
Yes. Now, as I was saying, it is better, because they ask really many people to give advice, in spite of the fact that we are not well organized. Until ten years ago, there was practically nothing, and before, there was an ideological barrier. I think [???] was referring mostly to the older times.
Sure, that’s for sure —
— I’m not trying to defend the Communist Party. I speak quite freely. We always do. The fact, the cause, as I say, I think is more ignorance than — you see, most of our leaders come from studies on —
— law or —
— law or philosophy, and even if most of them are clever people, it is more difficult for them. I remember the first time I spoke to the national conference of the Communist Party. I said that it is a shame that most of the people who write to me do not know the difference between uranium 235 and uranium 238. Why, they probably know the Signor (Italian) . . . why, they probably know the astrological sign under which they have been born, and they were laughing, but they — it was true.
This reference to uranium brings us to the topic of nuclear disarmament, more or less. That is one of the subjects on which you have been writing frequently in the last few years.
The problem of the arms race and the need to stop the arms race. Limitation of nuclear weapons, and —
This is the subject which has always been present to my mind, actually even many years ago, say, taking occasion from the anniversary of Hiroshima. I wrote a short paper for — and other papers. But at that time, it was occasional, or even worse, it was under the peace movement which had strong Stalinist fingerprints. But more recently, the situation has changed deeply. The connections with the Soviet Union are weaker. It is completely weak especially in the high level of the Communist Party. There is no connection, I would say. On the other side, the arms race has reached levels such that most concerned people should really be concerned. Actually, in Occidental countries, many movements of concerned scientists have grown, especially in United States, in England and in Germany, less in France because they have problems, of course of [???]. And what we did, me and other people, not necessarily of the Communist Party actually, was to try to establish here too in Italy some kind of union of concerned scientists, and after one and a half years of hard work, we succeeded to have a network in every university, practically in every university. I don’t say that it is a strong movement, but something exists. Our main aim is not to make propaganda or to take positions for or against the Cruise Missiles and so on, but to provide sound information and in some cases, to make a statement on something. But as far as it is possible, because the subject is not [???] subject, statements based upon data and information. We have not done much up to now. We have organized an international conference in Bologna, calling mostly American scientists and some Europeans, which belong to — some of them have been consultants of the United States government. I can mention Sidney [???] James [???] also Andy [???] who is a leader of the freeze movement, and a Finn who spoke on the chemical and biological warfare, and a few others. We could not have the Soviet scientists. We invited them, but they did not come. I don’t know the explanation. I think it was a good conference because the speakers were among the best. We invited McNamara, but he was not available as well. So, we are open minded! We did not invite Teller. We wanted to refer to the —
— the conference —
Not the [???] conference, which was, according to me, too much crowded by hawks. We did not want to; we did not need the opinion of people such as Teller. But we had people who know the subject, who were good scientists, who love their countries. Certainly they are not in favor of unilateral disarmament, but they provide sound information. And all of them agreed that the situation is getting worse. Now, this group is one that, we are asked to go to schools to speak to students. We go or we take part in public debates. We write for newspapers. So we are starting to do something. I hope.
A good kind of —
It takes time, of course.
It takes time, of course. Physics is a hard subject so it is difficult to do good physics and to take care — some succeed, but it is difficult for me, at least.
I see. So I don’t think — what have we left out? I think we have discussed —
You wanted to know something about the attitudes of the Italian Communist Party. Now there is the concern about the economic situation, the destruction of the industry, the problem of (??), the unemployment
— unemployment —
This is felt as our problem, and the opinion of many of our leaders is that science and technology can do much, in favor of a good solution Now, the drawback is the reverse than it was before. Now, most of the leaders think that technology can easily do something in favor of having a country, a modern country which produces well.
— to modernize the industry —
While the problem is objectively much more difficult than they guess. So, if you look at our problems, for instance, during the last elections. The Communist Party was among the few who gave great emphasis to the head of technology and science. But to know how this can be done, that is another problem. That is what I tried to clarify, which is in the booklet I wrote, and in other papers I have written. So, they often come to me, people asking for collecting us together on software, hardware, solid state, but first, being of the opposition, it is difficult to have great influence. Second, the whole structure of bureaucracy in Italy is so terrible that even if a good law is approved by the Parliament, then it has no effect. We had a good law on the construction of industries five years ago, but it had no effect. It was approved also with the contribution of the Communist Party. But it had no effect. I know it is a difficult problem in every country, the connection between technology and production, but in Italy it is even worse. We were talking before about my experience abroad. I want to tell something, not very important but personal. I was at a conference in Leningrad just before going to the United States, and —
No, no, it was much later, maybe ’74. Maybe. And well, of course, everything was still organized, but they had a little problem of changing my airplane ticket, because I had to leave the country one day earlier. In Leningrad the (??) is one of the best. In Leningrad there was a large corps (hall?) full of young ladies just for taking care of these practical things. So I went to the one who was in charge and I asked, “Will you please change my reservation?” She said, “OK, give me your airplane ticket.” Then I went three days later and she said, “No, nothing has yet been done, give me your passport.” OK. Then I went, and the very last day, no, the day before the last day, I went again, and she said, “No answer.” Then I spoke to Professor Dexter and I said, “It is hopeless here, I cannot just change my reservation.” He said, roughly, as he was used to say — Dexter is dead now unfortunately — “Oh, they are badly organized here. Come with me.” He was a very important person, so he had a personal secretary in the Soviet Union, so he brought me in his car with his secretary to the Swedish Airline Systems and in two minutes they changed my reservation. So I was furious, and I said, “Well, Soviet Union has still lots to learn.” Then a short time later, I went to the United States, and of course these things are completely simply. I mentioned already that in five minutes they gave me the permission, in spite of the fact that I was in the Communist Party. Then everything went all right. I was in Miami at an international conference. I went to visit a lot of my friends. I have a lot of friends in the United States who have spent one year or one month here. In going up north in the East Coast, stopping in Philadelphia, Lehigh and so on, I had one day left in New York before catching the plane, so I went to visit the Central Park Museum. After three hours I was fed up, and I thought, before going to the Guggenheim Collection, I would just go and have a little walk. I had a little walk. It was a Sunday, a sunny day, at 1 o’clock, and suddenly, three very young men, young boys, I would say, we’ll say from 14 to 18, with three long knives jumped on me, and took away everything I had, except, I should say, the airplane ticket and the passport, which they gave me back. So I was —
— scared —
— scared. I had only half a dollar with me. And I went back to the hotel. So when I was back in Parma, I thought, of course the United States was a wonderful country. I have many friends. But I prefer to live in a quiet place where, when my daughters go around in the night, I sleep quietly without distress. So every country has advantages and drawbacks. That is my story.
OK. Thank you very much for your story. Thank you.