Obituary of Bruno Bertotti

Bruno Bertotti, Professor Emeritus of Astrophysics at the University of Pavia, died on 20 October 2018. His scientific work, spanning over many fields of physics, has made him one of the leading scientists of his university.

Born in Mantova in 1930, he was admitted to the Ghislieri College in Pavia and completed his studies in mathematics (1953) and physics (1954) at the local university. From 1953 to 1956 he was a sBruno Bertotti, Professor Emeritus of Astrophysics at the University of Pavia, died on 20 October 2018. His scientific work, spanning over many fields of physics, has made him one of the leading scientists of his university.

Born in Mantova in 1930, he was admitted to the Ghislieri College in Pavia and completed his studies in mathematics (1953) and physics (1954) at the local university. From 1953 to 1956 he was a scholar at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, becoming one of the last students of E. Schroedinger. He then moved to the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton (1958-59), then to the Plasma Physics Laboratory as Senior Researcher (1959-61). He returned to Italy in 1961, where he worked in plasma physics as Senior Researcher at Frascati. He became full professor at the University of Messina in 1967, then at the University of Pavia in 1971, where he remained until his death. He was a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge and at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Since his years in Dublin he developed a keen and profound interest in the physics of gravitation and cosmology. He contributed to the first volume of the “Encyclopedia of Ignorance”, a collection of writings on the unsolved problems in physics, with a chapter entitled “The Riddles of Gravitation” (Pergamon Press, 1977). He was one of the founders of the Italian Society of Gravitational Physics (SIGRAV).

Among his main scientific achievements, a special mention must be given to the Bertotti-Robinson metric, a static, axisymmetric solution of the Einstein-Maxwell equations, and a precise test of General Relativity with the Cassini spacecraft. The measurement made a clever use of the Cassini radio system, otherwise designed for completely different scientific goals. Carried out in 2002, it is still the most accurate test of General Relativity to date. He later confessed his frustration with such long-lived primacy, which in his view only indicated the slow progress in experimental gravity. The late interest in space missions motivated in 1990 and 2003 the publication of “Physics of the Solar System”, an advanced textbook on planetary physics and dynamics, of which he was the lead author.

He felt profoundly the societal role of science. As a member of the Union of Italian Scientists for Disarmament (USPID), he was a convinced supporter of arm control and space surveillance. Worried that space debris could severely limit the use of circumterrestrial space, which he considered an essential asset for humankind, he contributed to making space agencies and international organisations aware of this potential threat.

Bruno Bertotti was demanding of himself and forgiving with others. His students admired him for the depth and insight of his lectures, always stimulating and inspiring. He cared profoundly for those with whom he worked, who felt privileged of his collaboration. Some of them shared his passion for mountaineering, where they could appreciate even more his human side.

Luciano Iess