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News from ICTP 114 - Profile



GianCarlo Ghirardi, one of Italy's most prominent physicists, recently celebrated his 70th birthday.


Passion for Physics



GianCarlo Ghirardi

Last 5 September, in a jam-packed Main Lecture Hall, ICTP celebrated the 70th birthday of GianCarlo Ghirardi, a leading scientist in the field of quantum mechanics, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Trieste and long-time ICTP consultant. The conference--"Are There Quantum Jumps? On the Present Status of Quantum Mechanics"--attracted some of the world's most celebrated high-energy physicists, including Roger Penrose, Oxford University, UK, and Stephen L. Adler, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.
The conference also reunited the three authors of the so-called GRW theory, derived from the initials of its proponents: GianCarlo Ghirardi, Alberto Rimini (University of Pavia, Italy) and Tullio Weber (University of Trieste). The theory aimed to reconcile the paradoxical behaviour of quantum mechanics in the subatomic world with the more predictable behaviour of particles in the macroscopic world that we all experience.
GianCarlo Ghirardi, who was born and raised in Milan, Italy, earned a doctorate degree in physics from the University of Milan in 1959. He then moved to Trieste in August 1963 where he assumed a full-time teaching position with the theoretical physics group at the University of Trieste. "The year before", he recalls, "I was fortunate enough to attend the first-ever international seminar in theoretical physics in Trieste that was organised by Paolo Budinich and Abdus Salam. The event, held at Miramare Castle's horse stables, took place just two years before the establishment of ICTP in Trieste. I could hardly imagine that over the next 40 years I would be immersed in the life and activities of such a prestigious institution."
At the University of Trieste, Ghirardi has focussed his teaching on quantum mechanics (to which he has recently added a course on new frontiers in quantum mechanics). He has taught related courses on the same subject at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), ICTP's next-door institute. Teaching assignments abroad have included brief stints at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, and the University of Santiago, Chile.
Scattering theories and quantum symmetry were Ghirardi's first fields of interest and these subjects served as focal points of his book, Symmetry Principles in Quantum Theories, which he coauthored with Luciano Fonda, a close friend and colleague at the University of Trieste's Department of Theoretical Physics.
Ghirardi earned a full professorship in 1976 and from 1981 to 1985 he served as head of the University of Trieste's Institute of Theoretical Physics, housed at ICTP's Main Building. He was appointed to the position two additional times, from 1985-1991 and from 1993-1999 when the Institute was reconstituted into the Department of Theoretical Physics.
"Serving as director for nearly 20 years proved very fruitful for me both in terms of my research and career development," Ghirardi says. "And it also proved fruitful for the Centre's scientific staff. In 1982 I secured an agreement between the University and ICTP that led to even closer collaboration between the institutions. At the same time, as an ICTP consultant, I acted as a local organiser for a large number of courses in medical physics, neurophysics and soil physics. In 1990 Abdus Salam appointed me head of the Associates and Federation Arrangements Programmes, a position that I have maintained ever since. And in 2003 I was named president of the Consorzio per l'incremento degli studi e delle ricerche in fisica, the organisation responsible for co-ordinating the wide-ranging physics groups in Trieste."
Ghirardi has two great personal passions beyond his scientific research. The first is a deep interest in the history and philosophy of physics. He is one of the founders and first president of the Italian Society for the Foundations of Physics and is author of a book on quantum mechanics, Un'occhiata alle carte di Dio, published in 1997 by Il Saggiatore in Milan, which has sold some 20,000 copies and was translated last year by Princeton University Press under the title, Sneaking a Look at God's Cards.
His second deep interest is known only by his closest friends: a collection of about 350 banknotes from 70 countries in which the portraits of eminent scientists appear. Of notable value, with several extremely rare pieces, "it is perhaps the most complete collection of 'scientific' banknotes in the world. Sooner or later I would like to organise a public exhibition."

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