Bruno Ferretti (1913-2010)

Bruno Ferretti, a key figure in European physics during the early days of CERN and the Laboratory's first director in charge of theoretical physics, passed away on 11 August. A leading physicist, he made important contributions in nuclear and elementary particle physics, quantum field theory and the physics of bremsstrahlung in crystals.


From left to right Felix Bloch, Bruno Ferretti, H J Bhabha and Wolfgang Pauli in 1948.

Born and educated in Bologna, Ferretti was part of the group of people in Rome who pursued research in fundamental physics in the early 1940s, despite the hardships of the times. It was there, at the Physics Institute, that he worked with Edoardo Amaldi on ideas for what was to become CERN. In December 1950, at a meeting called by Pierre Auger in the headquarters of the Centre européen de la culture promoted by Denis de Rougemont, Ferretti submitted to the group for scientific studies and research a concise proposal, including costs, for “a European nuclear physics laboratory based on a large accelerator of elementary particles” (in the words of the group’s resolution). This laid the foundations for the future CERN laboratory, fixing its direction in “basic science”.
CERN’s theory group was originally based in Copenhagen, but in 1957 Ferretti became the first Director of the Theoretical Studies Division here in Geneva. During his time at CERN, the experimental programme for the 600 MeV Synchrocyclotron and the up-coming 25 GeV Proton Synchrotron was outlined following wide consultation in the Member States and many seminars at CERN. In April 1959 Ferretti was succeeded by Markus Fierz and returned to Bologna where he held the chair of theoretical physics until his retirement in 1988.

In Bologna he laid the foundations for the School and Laboratories for Nuclear Engineering and was the instigator of original research in science education. As professor emeritus, he remained active and enthusiastic, deeply convinced that theorists should keep in mind feasible measurements.

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