Seeing the Invisible: Music, Art, and an Evolutionary Step

Claudio Pellegrini

11 a.m., January 19, 2020

In a 1954 paper “Galileo as a critic of the arts”, Erwin Panofsky wrote that the Florentine’s culture in which Galileo lived, his participation in the visual arts, literature and music communities that at the time made Florence a leading European intellectual center, nurtured his pioneering scientific work, an important step toward modern science and the exploration of the universe. Working with his father Vincenzio, part of the movement that revolutionized music and created opera at the end of the XVI century, the young Galileo was introduced to experimental studies of how the sound from a vibrating string depends on length, tension and mass. Following Panofsky we look at the similarity between Galileo’s scientific approach and his analysis and appreciation of art and literature and discuss how his knowledge of visual arts had a large impact on his observations of the Moon and Venus and the beginning of modern astronomy.

Our speaker, Claudio Pellegrini (born in Rome on May 9, 1935), is an Italian physicist known for his pioneering work on X-ray free electron lasers and collective effects in relativistic particle beams. In 1999, he received the International Free-Electron Laser (FEL) Prize for his work on X-ray free-electron lasers. In 2001, he received the Robert R. Wilson Prize of the American Physical Society. In 2014, he was awarded the Enrico Fermi Award by U.S. President Barack Obama with the citation “For pioneering research advancing understanding of relativistic electron beams and free-electron lasers, and for transformative discoveries profoundly impacting the successful development of the first hard x-ray free-electron laser, heralding a new era for science.” In 2017 he was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences.

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