This is the kind of news I would not have wanted to write about in my blog. Nicola Cabibbo died yesterday at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Rome. He was fighting with a long time illness. Cabibbo has to be considered, for very good reasons, one of the greatest Italian physicists. He is the product of the Roman school of physics that started its glorious traditions with Enrico Fermi. One of his teachers was Edoardo Amaldi, one of the boys of via Panisperna that, together with Fermi, brought Italian physics to a worldwide level. By himself, he contributed to a formidable group of physicists working at the University “La Sapienza” in Rome that gave fundamental contributions to our current understanding of the Standard Model.
Last time I have heard a talk by him was at Accademia dei Lincei last year (see here). It was exciting to hear directly from his voice a layman description of his most fundamental discovery. I did not think that would have been the last time I would have seen him. He has been my teacher at “La Sapienza” when I was studying to get my “laurea” in physics. He firstly exposed me to quantum field theory and so I learned how to compute the first correction (the Schwinger’s one) of the magnetic moment of the electron. His exposition was always very clear and he made things so easy to understand that this first course is yet a formidable basis to build upon for my career as a physicist. Finally, he was my supervisor for my laurea’s thesis and he was instrumental for me to reach the highest honors in my final examination.
Cabibbo was the president of the Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze as he was a Catholic and he supported his faith in different occasions. One of this was the discussion with Penzias about faith and science organized by Riccardo Chiaberge, an Italian journalist (see here). The crucial point of his thought was that, as believers, there is no reason to fear science as God may have decided any kind of avenues to pursue His aims.
His dead has been a bad news for me and I think that, behind the sorrow, we will greatly miss him for the clearity of his thought and the excitement he always transmitted about science, this kind of excitement that he also gave to me, one of his students.
Note: Cabibbo was awarded this year with the Dirac medal by ICTP (see here and here).