In March the Stanford University Libraries and the Biblioteca comunale dell’Archiginnasio in Bologna, Italy, unveiled the digitized archives of Laura Bassi (1711–78), Europe’s first female physics professor. Bassi burst onto the intellectual scene in 1732, when she publicly debated 49 physics and mathematics topics with the scientific literati. The debates resulted that same year in a PhD degree from and a teaching post at the University of Bologna.

Through her teaching, research, and correspondence, Bassi was instrumental in spreading Newtonian experimental physics throughout Italy. She was a regular at Bologna’s popular annual “carnival anatomy”—15-day debates covering many topics—and with her husband, physicist Giuseppe Veratti, she established a laboratory and taught physics and philosophy in their home. In 1776 Bassi was named professor of experimental physics at the Bologna Academy of Sciences. After her death, Veratti took over the chair; he, in turn, was succeeded by Paolo Veratti, one of the...

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