Remembering the incredible scientist Laura Bassi

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It is a sad reality that women have not the same rights as men for many years. Even today many women face discrimination in the workplace, the home, and in social situations. This systemic discrimination has caused women of incredible notoriety to be undervalued in our society. While some women have been celebrated others have been ignored. Now as we start to try and correct many of the issues in our society including this sexism we must also identify and celebrate the great female minds of today and of many years ago. One of those minds is Laura Bassi.

Laura Bassi is a name that deserves to be well known today. In her time she was a well respected and highly influential scientist. Bassi came from a wealthy family and was home educated. She developed an interest in the sciences and soon decided to pursue an academic career.

Laura Bassi became a professor of physics at the University of Bologna in 1732 at the age of 21 and had eight children in her lifetime. Her two headline achievements were being the second woman in Europe to receive a Ph.D. and the first woman to be appointed as a professor in a European university. 

The first woman to gain a Ph.D. was Elena Cornaro Piscopia in 1678. Laura Bassi earned hers in 1732 when she defended her philosophy theses at Bologna town hall.  Although a landmark development when she became the first woman to teach at a European university she still faced strong adversity. It was deemed improper for her to teach a room of men so she was only allowed to give lectures at events that featured women. She also often worked from her home and gave many demonstrations there.

In scientific circles, Bassi is well regarded for the role she played in spreading Newtonian physics in Italy and Europe. In her time as a professor, she published 28 articles on physics and hydraulics. 

Her brilliance was recognized by Pope Benedict XIV who elected her to a prestigious group called the “Benedettini” in 1745. Pope Benedict XIV had been a family friend of the Bassis for many years and was well aware of Laura’s incredible mind. He set up a group of 25 leading minds and asked them to promote theoretical physics and other sciences. She was a core member of this group.

Although Larua Bassi is not a household name she is honored in a number of ways. Today there is the ‘Larua Bassi Scholarship’ named in her honor. It was created in 2018 to help postgrads and other academics to help research areas that are neglected in their respective fields. 

Bassi was well respected throughout her life. At the age of 65, she became a professor of experimental physics at the Insitute of Sciences in Bologna, her husband worked as her teaching assistant. Two years later she died but her influence on Italian and European sciences is permanently forged.

While Laura Bassi made incredible contributions to the scientific community through the papers she published, the Newtonian ideas that she taught, and the position in a prestigious group of intellectuals she held, she did more than that. Her work in the 1700s broke new ground for female academics. Her incredible achievements broke through the glass ceiling that many women faced at the time and laid a foundation for female academics to build upon. 

While are all have heard of incredible female scientists like Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace, we must question if these women would have been able to achieve what they did if not for the incredible work by Laura Bassi many years earlier.