Famous Italian Scientists
As we began putting together this page on famous Italian
scientists we initially thought we'd divide them into categories such as physicists, physicians and so on. Then we
realized we had a problem. Most of these Italian scientists were multi-disciplined, so they fall into more than one
category. Our solution was to list them on a single page with their specialties highlighted in bold
Here are 14 famous Italian scientists listed according to their
year of birth:
1. Girolamo Fracastoro [1483-1553]
Girolamo Fracastoro was born in Verona, northern Italy, and
studied at the University of Padua, sharing classes with a student named Nicolas Copernicus. An
accomplished physician, poet, geologist and astronomer, Frascstoro
is considered to be the world's first epidemiologist (a specialist in the study of
In 1538 he wrote a book called A Single Center of the Universe, which posited that the earth revolved around the sun, in opposition to the
established belief that the earth was the center of the universe, This was five years before Copernicus published
his paradigm-shattering work on the same subject.
In his 1546 publication, On Contagion and Contagious Diseases, Fracastoro proposed that all epidemics were the result of germs being
transmitted from person to person. Over 300 years later, French scientist Louis Pasteur confirmed the theory and
invented a process called pasteurization.
Girolamo Cardano [1501-1576]
Cardano was truly a man of the Renaissance. He published two books on mathematics, revealing his talent for equations and
defining the rules of algebra.
His contributions to such diverse fields as hydrodynamics (water
flow), erosion and other earth sciences, mechanics, probability theory, cryptography and medicine led to later
discoveries and refinements in each of those disciplines.
He was one of the most famous physicians of his time in Europe.
His published works are available in a 10-volume collection.
3. Andrea Cesalpino [1519-1603]
Andrea Cesalpino was born in Arezzo, Tuscany, in 1519. He was a
physician, botanist and philosopher, holding posts as the Director of the Botanical Gardens and Professor of
Medicine at the University of Pisa. In 1583 he published The Book of Plants Volumes 1-16, the first
full-length botany textbook, and proposed a system of plant
classification which profoundly influenced later botanists,
including the Swedish Carolus Linnaeus, who laid the groundwork for the modern system of plant classification in
his work Systema Naturae, published in 1735.
Cesalpino also studied the circulation of the blood, influencing
the work of William Harvey 30 years later.
Galileo Galilei [1564-1642]
Galileo was born in Pisa, northern Italy, in 1564, and is
considered by many to be the most influential Italian scientist of all time. The inventor of the scientific method,
he was accomplished in astronomy,
cartography, entomology, hydrodynamics, mathematics mechanics, physics and timekeeping.
While still in his teens, Galileo discovered the timekeeping
properties of the pendulum, laying the foundation for his son's development of the pendulum clock. His early
experiments with falling objects at the Leaning Towers of Pisa are legendary. He also discovered the law of
inertia, which was redefined by Sir Isaac Newton.
In 1590 he published On Motion,
which refuted the hypothesis that the sun revolved around the earth. He later refined the thermoscope, a forerunner
of the thermometer, and invented the sector, a forerunner of the drawing compass.
Galileo built a telescope based on information about a similar
instrument invented in Holland, which proved his theory that the earth revolved around the sun. This lead to his
trial and conviction for heresy against the Roman Catholic Church, and he was sentenced to house arrest for the
rest of his life. The church finally exonerated him in 1992.
Evangelista Torricelli [1608-1647]
In 1643 Evangelista Torricelli invented the barometer, a device
for measuring the pressure of air which contributed greatly to the science of meteorology. Torricelli was born in Faenza, northern Italy, in 1608. At the age of 32, he
published a work called Concerning
Movementwhich applied Galileo's' laws of motion to
fluids, creating the science of hydrodynamics.
This lead to Galileo inviting him to become his assistant. Upon Galileo's death, Torricelli assumed
two of his prestigious posts with the Duke of Tuscany and the Florentine Academy.
Torricelli's work on the motion of fluids is acknowledged in the
naming of Torricelli's theorem. He also made major contributions to the science of optics.
Francesco Maria Grimaldi [1618-1663]
Francesco Maria Grimaldi was a former Jesuit and the discoverer
of the diffraction (bending or deflection) of light, influencing future discoveries in physics and other sciences, His major work on the fluid properties of light was published two
years after his death, and contradicted the prevailing theory that light was composed of rapidly moving particles.
Albert Einstein later expanded on his work and proved that both theories had validity.
Grimaldi studied philosophy at the Universities of Parma, Ferrara
and Bologna. He taught rhetoric and humanities at the University of Bologna, later switching to mathematics, and
eventually working in the fields of astronomy and physics. He is credited with the tradition of naming lunar
regions after astronomers and physicians.
7. Luigi Galvani [1737-1798]
Luigi Galvani was born in 1737 and graduated with degrees in
philosophy and medicine from the
University of Bologna in 1759. After his appointment as professor of anatomy and surgery, he began a series of
experiments on frogs that led to his publishing a paper on the electrical properties of muscle and skin.
His findings served as a catalyst in the discoveries of his
friend and contemporary, Alessandro Volta. Galvani's contribution is acknowledged in the terms “galvanism” and
“galvanic skin response”.
8. Alessandro Volta [1745-1827]
Alessandro Volta was born in Como, Italy in 1745. Although he
qualified as a chemist, physician, physicist and inventor, he is best remembered for his work with electricity. Volta was a Professor of Physics at the Como Gymnasium at the age of 29, and in 1775
invented the electrophorous, a device for producing static electricity charges. His work resulted in the discovery
of methane gas, and in 1779 he was named Professor of Natural History at Pavia.
In 1800 Volta created the first battery. His findings were
published by the Royal Society of London in their prestigious journal. The volt, the basic unit of electromotive
force, was named in his honor.
9. Amedeo Avogadro [1776-1856]
Amedeo Avogadro was born in Turin, northern Italy, and practiced
as a lawyer before turning to science, in particular, physics and
became Professor of Physics at the University of Turin.
Avogadro discovered the relationship between the density of a gas
and the number of molecules in a fixed volume. In a paper published in 1811, he presented his scientific
breakthrough, known as Avogadro's hypothesis, which laid the foundation for the way chemical compounds would be
analyzed from that time forward. He also coined the termmolecule.
Avogadro's discoveries met with controversy, and his
contributions were often ignored. The French scientist André-Marie Ampere was often erroneously credited with
Avogadro's discoveries. Fifty years after his death he was finally accorded the recognition he deserved as a father
of modern chemistry.
Ascanio Sobrero 1812-1888
Ascanio Sombrero was born in Casale Monteferrato, northern Italy,
in 1812. He became Professor of Chemistry at the University of Turin. He is remembered as the
discovered of nitroglycerine, which lead to Alfred Nobel's invention of dynamite in 1866. Nitroglycerine is
also used as a heat medication.
During his tenure at the University of Turin, Sobrero also
published a three-volume series on Chemistry.
11. Stanislao Cannizzaro [1826-1910]
Stanislao Cannizzaro was born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1826 and is
known for the determination of true atomic weights, which gave rise to a true system of chemistry based on Amedeo
A disciple of Avogadro, Cannizzaro is also the scientist who
promoted Avogadro's theories and restored the late scientist's reputation after the older man's death. Together
they defined the science of modern chemistry.
12. Camillo Golgi [1844-1926]
Camillo Golgi was born in Corteno, northern Italy, in 1843. He
received his medical degree from the University of Padua in 1865. His research into the central nervous system led
to the development of his silver nitrate cellular staining process. He also identified two types of nerve cells
which are named today Golgi cells types I and II. Other anatomical features which bear his name are the Golgi
tendon organ, and the Golgi complex or Golgi apparatus.
In 1906 Golgi won the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology, an honor he shared with Santiago Ramon y Cajal.
13. Guglielmo Marconi [1874-1937]
Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna, northern italy, to an
Irish mother and an Italian father. In 1985 Marconi, with Russian physicist Aleksandr Popov, invented a radio
antenna, which led to the first working radio. A
year later, he took out his first patent in London, where he set up the first permanent wireless
The first wireless messages were broadcast across the English
Channel in 1899. In 1909 Marconi and Karl Braun won the Nobel Prize for Physics.
14. Enrico Fermi (1901-1954)
Enrico Fermi was born in Rome, central Italy, and received his
doctorate in physics from the University of Pisa in 1922. Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1931 for
his work on neutrons. In 1952 at the University of Chicago, Fermi, working with Leo Szilard, built the
From 1954-1945, Fermi worked with Albert Einstein and a number of
other eminent scientists on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in New Mexico. The result of their collaboration
was the development of the atomic bomb, which was used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring about Japan's surrender
at the end of World War II.
Is there a famous Italian scientist we've overlooked on our list?
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