Laura Bassi, one of the “Benedettini”


On 20 February 1778, Laura Maria Caterina Bassi died at the age of 66. She was the first woman in the world to earn a university chair in a scientific field of studies. She received a doctoral degree from the University of Bologna in May 1732, only the third academic qualification ever bestowed on a woman by a European university, and the first woman to earn a professorship in physics at a university in Europe. She was the first woman to be offered an official teaching position at a university in Europe.

On 17 April 1732, Bassi defended her theses for the degree of doctor of philosophy. Several of her theses showed the influence of Isaac Newton’s works on optics and light. Two months later, she defended another set of theses about the properties of water, which led to her being awarded an honorary post at the university as a professor in physics.

In 1738, she married Giuseppe Veratti, a fellow academic with whom she had twelve children. After this, she was able to lecture from home on a regular basis and successfully petitioned the University for more responsibility and a higher salary to allow her to purchase her own equipment. She made physics into a lifelong career and broke a huge amount of ground for women in academic circles.

Graphic: Portrait of Italian mathematician and physicist Laura Bassi (1711-1778) by Carlo Vandi (18th century)

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