The Birth of Gravitational Wave Research in Italy: Insights into a Scientific Frontier Adventure


28 February, 2017
Adele La Rana – TERA Foundation & Department of Physics, University of Rome "Sapienza"

The current talk will give a brief overview of the history of gravitational wave (GW) studies, starting from some of the first hypotheses about the propagation of gravitation, and will then focus on the origins of the first experimental activities in Italy, aimed at detecting gravitational radiation. Italian GW research began in the early 1970s, stimulated by Joseph Weber’s papers claiming with increasing confidence the first detection of gravitational radiation. However, Italian pioneers in the field such as Edoardo Amaldi and Bruno Bertotti had been developing their interest in gravitation experiments already before, in the general framework of the so-called Renaissance of General Relativity. Many historians of physics identify with this name the new attitude of the scientific community towards Einstein’s theory of gravitation, which had started in the International scientific community since the middle of the 1950s. The renewed and increasing research activity on gravitation, which was taking place both from a theoretical and an experimental point of view, grew along the 1960s, with the observation of new celestial bodies, as quasars and pulsars, and with the birth of relativistic astrophysics. The beginning of Italian GW research will be described in the International context of this reborn interest in General Relativity.


The present historiographical research has been presented in its different aspects in various international conferences:

  • XIV Marcel Grossmann Meeting (Rome, July 2015);
  • Conference A Century of General Relativity (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, December 2015);
  • 7th Conference of the European Society for the History of Science - Symposium Enduring Ideas, New Alliances: Social and Epistemic Factors in the Renaissance of General Relativity (Prague, September 2016);
  • Invited Seminar at the Institut für Mathematik Johannes Gutenberg (Mainz, November 2016).