California Institute of Technology


Enrico Volterra wearing the military uniform of the Kingdom of Italy, 1920s. Photo ID EV8.2-2


In the News

Enrico Volterra papers

Born in Rome in 1905, the son of one of the finest scientists and mathematicians Italy ever produced, Enrico Volterra earned his first degree from the University of Rome in 1928, and continued to study and do research there with the help of several assistantships, including a five-year stint with renowned mathematician and professor mechanics, Tullio Levi-Civita.

After the Mussolini regime promulgated the 1938 racial laws, which prohibited Jews from teaching, Enrico lost his position. The following year, he left Italy for Cambridge, England, where he earned a PhD in engineering. When Italy entered World War II on the German side, Enrico was imprisoned in an internment camp on the Isle of Man, where he learned of his father's death. Released through the efforts of well-placed British scientists notably Archibald V. Hill, Enrico spent the rest of the war years in England, working on plastic and rubber materials under G. I. Taylor and for the British Admiralty.

Shown above right: Enrico Volterra (far right) in Italy on a recreational car trip with some friends. Photo ID EV8.2-3

The assistance of both Theodore von Kármán and Tullio Levi-Civita in Enrico's search for a permanent position is documented in their and in the latter's papers. Enrico's extensive correspondence with Levi-Civita traces his mentor’s attempts to secure a teaching position in Argentina for his protégé. In the end Enrico chose the path offered by Von Kármán, which in 1948 took him across the ocean to the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

Enrico spent the rest of his life in the United States. He soon moved to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and in 1957 to the University of Texas at Austin as a professor of aerospace engineering. He specialized in the theory of vibrations, in the strength of materials, and in the mathematical theory of elasticity. He died in 1973.

Enrico felt keenly his father's scientific legacy. Frequently the source for historical information about his father, Enrico composed an extensive scientific-biographical manuscript around which Sir Edmund Whittaker built the obituary notice on Vito Volterra for the Royal Society. Enrico took advantage of his visits to his mother in Italy to look after his father's famous library, now deposited at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. The papers include an interesting exchange of letters between Enrico and fractal pioneer Szolem Mandelbrojt regarding the editing of some of Vito's unfinished manuscript material. The Enrico Volterra papers also include many photographs of his father as well as a collection of autographs of distinguished scientists such as Giovanni Schiaparelli, George Ellery Hale, Max Noether, Sophie Kowalevski and Felix Klein, among others

Shown above left: Vita Volterra in an official photo from the late 1920s preserved in the papers of his son Enrico. Photo ID EV8.6-5

Donated to Caltech by Enrico's widow, Edith Volterra, the collection has been processed in nine archival boxes and is open to researchers. The finding aid will be online by the end of the summer.

Shown above: A holograph letter from astronomer George E. Hale is representative of many such items in Vito Volterra's autograph collection. Volterra had visited Pasadena in October, 1919, and had given a talk in French at Hale's house on international scientific cooperation during World War I and afterwards.

go to In The News archive

©2009 California Institute of Technology. All Rights Reserved.   last update: 04/14/2016
| Site Map



go to the Caltech Archives home page