Giuseppe "Beppo" Occhialini

Beppo is the nickname of Giuseppe Occhialini.

Giuseppe Occhialini was born in 1907 in Fossombrone (Pesaro) and graduated in Physics at the University of Florence in 1929. The years in Florence, in the group of young scientists around E. Persico, B. Rossi and G. Bernardini, were very important for his formation.

At the age of 24 he joined the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, under the supervision of Patrick M.S. Blackett to learn the Wilson chamber technique. He brought to the Cavendish the coincidence counter technique, pioneered by Bruno Rossi, and applied it to the Wilson chamber. The famous picture of the electromagnetic shower published in 1933 was obtained with this device. That work provided a confirmation of the discovery of the positron by C. Anderson and explained his properties in the framework of the relativistic theory of the electron formulated by Dirac.

Beppo came back to Florence in 1934 and few years later he moved to the University of S. Paolo in Brazil, invited by G.Wataghin who was starting with some students a research program on cosmic rays. At the beginnig of the war he had to leave his position and he took refuge in the Itatiaya mountains, near S. Paolo. Then, before coming back in Europe, he was for one year in a Biophysics Laboratory in Rio de Janeiro.

At the end of 1944 he went to the Will Laboratory in Bristol UK to collaborate with Cecil F. Powell. There, using a novel approach involving the use of photographic emulsions for detection of elementary particles, he contributed to the discovery of the pi-meson decay in 1947. In the last months in Bristol, in collaboration with his future wife C. Dilworth, improved the technique of developing emulsions and studied new emulsions of high sensitivity.

Blackett (in 1948 "for his development of the Wilson cloud chamber and his discoveries therewith in the field of nuclear physics and cosmic radiation") and Powell (in 1950 "for his development of the photographic method in the study of nuclear processes and for his discoveries concerning mesons") separately won the Nobel Prize for their work on elementary particles. Both awards were made in difficult, Cold War years, and Occhialini had never made a secret of his political ideas. Pontecorvo summed it up nicely, in a famous toast: "I drink not to Beppo, but to us all: may we collaborate with him, it is a practically sure way of winning a Nobel Prize".

In 1950, after two years in Bruxelles, Occhialini became professor at the University of Genova and two years later he moved to Milan. Research groups were founded in these places under his leadership obtaining a great scientific production. Some results were obtained through internatonal collaborations (as the `G-stack collaboration'). He founded and became first director of LFCTR (which later became IFCTR; this institute is now named after him: Istituto di Fisica Cosmica e Tecnologie Relative "G.P.S. Occhialini").

Beppo, together with E. Amaldi and others, played a crucial role in starting the European Space Research Organization, and in giving an impetus to its scientific programme, from which the present-day European Space Agency still benefits. He was one of the founding fathers of the COS-B projet. The European Physical Society appointed Occhialini in 1993 (its 25th Anniversary) as one of their Honorary Members.

In a sad coincidence, Giuseppe (Beppo) Occhialini died on 30 December 1993 within a few weeks of Bruno Rossi and a few months of Bruno Pontecorvo, three of the greatest Italian physicists of the same cultural generation.

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Maintained by F.Fiore, P.Giommi & M.Capalbi