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Bassi, Laura (Maria Catarina)

university bologna public professor

[ ba see] (1711–78) Italian physicist; the first female professor of physics at any university.

Laura Bassi was born in Bologna, the daughter of a lawyer, and was educated at home by the family physician, who was a professor at the university and a member of the Academy of the Institute for Sciences (Istituto delle Scienze). Bassi was instructed in mathematics, philosophy, anatomy, natural history and languages and news of her remarkable ability spread. She became an object of curiosity and was pressed to appear in public. In March 1732 she was elected to the Institute Academy and a month later engaged in a public debate with five scholars of the university and was awarded a degree from the University of Bologna. Bassi was given an official position at the university, but the Senate attempted to restrict her appearances as a lecturer to ceremonial public events and the social circles of the city. She continued to study mathematics and gave private lessons at her home, while successfully petitioning for wider responsibilities and a higher salary to cover the cost of equipment for physical and electrical experiments. She was one of the first scholars to teach Newtonian natural philosophy in Italy. At the age of 65 she was appointed to the Chair of Experimental Physics at Bologna. She married and had eight children, five of whom survived childhood.

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