Emilio Picasso (1927-2014)

It was with great regret that all who knew and had worked with Emilio received the sad news of his death on 12 October. While being deeply interested in fundamental physics, he had a particular gift for leadership: transmitting enthusiasm, being open for discussion, but also capable of making hard decisions when necessary. Emilio’s joviality, loyalty and friendliness with staff at all levels made him a colleague and friend appreciated by everybody.


Born in Genoa, Emilio read physics at the city’s university, where he received his doctorate in 1956 and stayed until he was offered a position as Research Associate at CERN in 1964. By then he had already begun to work with the team at CERN that was designing and constructing the world’s first muon storage ring to measure the “g-2” value of the muon. He obtained a staff contract at CERN in 1966 and later, as group leader, went on to mastermind the construction of a new, larger muon storage ring for CERN’s third g-2 experiment. This ultimately allowed the measurement of g-2 to a precision of 7.3 parts per million. From July 1972 to December 1977 he was Division Leader of the Nuclear Physics (later Experimental Physics) Division and deputy to the Director of the Physics I Department.

After finishing the third g-2 experiment in 1978, Emilio developed an interest in detecting gravitational waves using superconducting RF cavities, and became an expert in these devices. The result was that in Spring 1979, he was made responsible for coordinating the development of superconducting RF cavities that had started in several European laboratories (in Genoa, Karlsruhe, Orsay and Wuppertal, as well as at CERN) in view of the possible construction of the Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP). Then in June 1980 he was nominated LEP Project Leader, in charge of all the preparatory work that was already under way. When the Council formally agreed on the construction of LEP in December 1981, he was appointed LEP Project Director, a position that fit extremely well with all of his personal qualities. The project was successfully finished according to plan in July 1989.

Emilio retired in 1992 but this did not end his love for physics problems. He moved to Pisa as director of the Scuola Normale Superiore, where he had been named professor a decade earlier. There he focused once again on his interest in the detection of gravitational waves, which had continued even while he was a director at CERN, when he supported the installation of the EXPLORER gravitational-wave detector at CERN in 1984. In Pisa, he played a key role in supporting the approval of Virgo - the laser-based gravitational-wave detector adopted by INFN and CNRS, which is currently running near Cascina, Pisa.

Emilio had a unique ability to bring out the best in people, to inspire them and to bring them together in warm fellowship. He radiated warmth and welcome. Now, very sadly, this bright light is dimmed: but the afterglow remains and will be with us for many years.

His friends and former colleagues