Laura Bassi: 7 facts about one of the world's first women Scientists

Laura Bassi might not be well known today, but in her time she was a highly respected and influential scientist and philosopher.
Christopher McFadden

Laura Bassi is hardly a well-known name today, but in her time, she was one of the most influential female scientists in Europe.

Born in Bologna in the 18th Century, she would rise to become one of the first women to receive a Ph.D. and the first to ever become appointed as a professor at a European University.

Here we take a very quick look at her life and uncover some interesting facts about this amazing woman.

Who was Laura Bassi?

Laura Bassi, or Laura Maria Caterina Bassi to give her full name, was an Italian scientist during the 18th Century. More importantly, she was to become the first-ever woman professor appointed at a European University.

Laura Bassi: 7 facts about one of the world's first women Scientists
Laura Bassi, Source: Mailsapartbassimore/Wikimedia Commons

She was born in Bologna in 1711 and was home educated at the behest of her wealthy lawyer father. During her years of home tutelage, Bassi developed a keen interest in science and was later encouraged by her family and friends, including Cardinal Prospero Lambertini (a future pope), to pursue an academic career.

This decision would soon earn her a place in history.

What are some interesting facts about Laura Bassi?

So, without further ado, here are some interesting facts about one of the world's first female scientists, Laura Bassi. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. Laura Bassi was made a professor at a very young age

Laura Bassi was appointed Professor of physics at the University of Bologna in 1732. She was only 21 years old at the time.

Several years later in 1738, she married a fellow academic, Guiseppe Varetti, with whom she had eight children.

2. Bassi taught Newtonian physics for many years

Laura Bassi: 7 facts about one of the world's first women Scientists

One of Bassi's most notable achievements was her part in introducing Newtonian physics to Italy. While teaching as a Professor of Anatomy, she approached the university for more teaching work.

She was given permission to provide more classes in her own home and even set up a small laboratory for her students. Here she taught students about the concepts of Newton's great work and also published 28 articles on physics and hydraulics. 

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3. Lauri Bassi was appointed to an elite group of thinkers called the "Benedettini"

Laura Bassi: 7 facts about one of the world's first women Scientists
Tomb of Pope Benedict XIV. Source: Ricardo André Frantz/Wikimedia Commons

After a long fruitful career in academia, Bassi was elected to join an elite group of academics in Italy known as the "Benedettini" in 1745. This group was established by her old acquaintance Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, who had now become Pope Benedict XIV.

This group of 25 leading intellectuals was charged with the promotion of theoretical physics and other sciences. 

4. Bassi was the second woman in Europe to receive a university doctorate degree

In 1732, Laura Bassi publicly defended her philosophy thesis at Bologna town hall. This enabled her to receive her much-coveted Ph.D. at the age of 21. 

This achievement would make her only the second woman in Europe to receive a doctorate degree. The first was awarded to Elena Cornaro Piscopia in 1678. 

5. A special scholarship program is named in her honor today

Laura Bassi: 7 facts about one of the world's first women Scientists
Source: Editing Press

In 2018, the "Laura Bassi Scholarship" was established by the Editing Press. This scholarship was created to help editorial assistance to postgraduates and junior academics whose research is dedicated to studying neglected topics within their respective fields.

"The scholarships are open to every discipline and are awarded three times per year: December, April, and August." - Editing Press.

6. Bassi had many intellectual admirers

Laura Bassi was recognized as a great thinker in her own time. This was not only reflected in the academic positions she managed to attain, but also from the caliber of admirers she attracted throughout her career.

"Bassi’s admirers included the likes of Voltaire in France, who preferred Bassi’s academy to that of London’s, and Dorothea Erxleben in Germany, the first woman to earn a medical doctorate, who notably found inspiration in Bassi’s fierce struggle for equal opportunity for women." - Editing Press.

7. Bassi later became a professor of experimental physics

Laura Bassi: 7 facts about one of the world's first women Scientists
Birdseye view of Bologna. Source: Rob Oo/Flickr

At the ripe old age of 65, Bassi was appointed to a professorship in experimental physics at the prestigious Institute of Sciences in Bologna. Her husband joined her as a teaching assistant.

Sadly, two years later, she would pass away.

Her influence on Italian physics and her long influential career would help break new ground for many female academics who would follow her. Her tomb can still be visited today at the Church of Corpus Domini, Bologna.

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