Luigi Giulotto

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Interviewed by
Lanfranco Belloni
Interview date
University of Pavia, Italy
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Interview of Luigi Giulotto by Lanfranco Belloni on 1982 December 7,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,

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Childhood influences of father and teacher on career decision; childhood experiences as radio amateur. First studies in physics at Collegio Borromeo, Pavia; influences of Adolfo Campetti and Prof. Brunetti in radioactivity. Spectroscopy work with Campetti and later experimentation with Raman spectroscopy of calcite. Graduation, 1933; meeting future wife. Move to Switzerland during World War II; repatriation and resumption of lab work at Università di Pavia. Abortive work toward lamb shift in hydrogen spectrum. Postwar instrumentation and funding problems. Move to nuclear magnetic resonance; reproduction of Felix Bloch and Edward Purcell experiment; work on "negative temperature." Foreign influences brought by Fausto Fumi from Frederick Seitz, Nevill Mott; work with students in solid state. Views about the state of Italian physics, particularly on Edoardo Amaldi and the funding priority given to high energy physics.


G.[Giulotto]'s father was a Math teacher who did some research in spherical poly-harmonic functions. G. acknowledges influence through talks with his father, although he was more inclined to physics and experimental physics than to math. G. acknowledges also influence of his teacher of Math in Liceo (high school). During Liceo (high school), he started toying with radio apparatus and built with a friend a transmitter similar to Marconi's. Apparently he was one of the first radio amateurs; that was before entering college. Giulotto then won a competition for a place at Collegio Borromeo at Pavia and entered Physics. At that time, around 1928-9, Pavia had more a reputation than Milano, where the University was very recent (it started in 1925 or so).

Giulotto acknowledges influence of elderly physico-chemist Adolfo Campetti, who was carrying on the Italian tradition of spectroscopic studies. At Pavia there was also Brunetti, from Florence, who was doing radioactivity experiments, like the Rome group, only with a poorer instrumentation.

Giulotto was attracted to spectroscopy work with Campetti not because he was a born spectroscopist, but because the lab was more equipped in that field.

Giulotto started with Raman spectroscopy of calcite and found explanation of two Raman lines at low frequency, that were not explained in the spectrogram at low frequency that Raman himself had just published in Nature (see Giulotto's papers).

That kind of research was later developed by Alfred Kastler.

Giulotto, who graduated from Pavia in 1933, did the work on calcite with his future wife, who afterwards left research and became a housewife. In the war period, two weeks after September 8th 1943, that is after Italy had asked an armistice to the Allies, Giulotto moved to Switzerland to avoid being drafted by "the Germans" as he puts it, in fact to avoid being drafted by the Mussolini's government of Northern Italy, although the difference was merely formal. In Switzerland Giulotto started teaching physics to other Italian military people that had expatriated and were in Swiss internment camp for foreign military. He stayed there one year and a half and then on his return to Pavia he found that his instruments in the lab were just intact, only a little dusty, and had not been removed or damaged by the war.

Before leaving for Switzerland, Caldirola had told him about discussions on the agreement between Dirac theory and the structure of the Hα line in hydrogen spectrum. On his return to Pavia Giulotto started investigations on such a discrepancy and a few months before Lamb's and Rutherford's experiment of coincidence of 2p1/2 and 2s1/2 lines by purely spectroscopic means.

Even before Bethe's paper, Caldirola talked with Pauli of Giulotto's experiment and of a tentative heuristic explanation of it that he (Caldirola) had sketched, trying to explain the discrepancy between Dirac's theory and experiment. Pauli dismissed the whole thing as the mere result of an experimental error.

Then Giulotto moved to NMR and, just one year after Bloch and Purcell, he managed to reproduce their experiment with a rudimental technique, using old magnets, cannibalizing the radio of the Institute (that was a State property), and managing also to do without an oscillograph (that was not available), therefore what they detected was an acoustical signal.

The general situation soon after the war was very poor and they managed to get a small oscillograph only one year after having reproduced Bloch and Purcell's experiment. The Pavia group was also among the first to obtain “negative temperature” always with improvised apparatus.

Giulotto says that it was not such a great disadvantage to have little or no money, since one was then obliged to use his brain…

Giulotto never went abroad to work in American laboratories, for instance, he had never directly interacted with American universities. And he never thought of migrating. His most important foreign connection was with the French group of the Collogue Ampere, also working in NMR.

Giulotto acknowledges Fumi's contribution in bringing to Italy the ideas he absorbed from Seitz at Urbana and from Mott at Bristol. Says that Fumi suggested experiments to Pavia physicists and he, Giulotto, tried to pursue them always with spectroscopic methods.

Meanwhile students started doing dissertations in solid state, and among them Bassani and Chiarotti, both of the Collegio Ghislieri, Pavia.

Then comes the saying and not saying of Giulotto about what Amaldi calls his war against INFN, Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare; that is against the trend of privileging nuclear and particle physics in Italy. Giulotto's stand is best evidenced by a couple of reports on the state of research in Italy that Giulotto wrote. Copies of them are enclosed in one of Giulotto's envelopes.

To be true, Giulotto acknowledges Amaldi’s action, hinting that when funds were secured to high energy physics, then Amaldi started worrying a little bit also about solid state. Still, most of the money used to go and still goes to high energy physics, thus creating a situation of unbalance, that's typical of Italian physics, and has no counterpart for instance in the US.

Giulotto himself had very little contacts with industrialists, and considers himself “not a politician.”

He also laments lack of divulgation of solid state physics results as against the massive media coverage of events related to quarks, black holes, etc.