Addio a John Heilbron

John L. Heilbron (San Francisco, March 17^th 1934 — Padova, November 5^th 2023)


by Ivana Gambaro


John Lewis Heilbron studied at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) where he received his B.A. and his M. A. degrees in physics, and obtained in 1964 his Ph.D. in history of  science with Thomas S. Kuhn.
With Kuhn he collaborated in the Archive for History of Quantum Physics Project described in detail in Sources for History of Quantum Physics written with T.S. Kuhn, P. Forman and L. Allen. At UCB since 1973 he directed the Office for the History of Science and Technology, a melting pot of people, ideas and initiatives, and for twenty-five years the journal Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences. He was Professor of History of Science at UCB and later Vice-Chancellor Emeritus (Vice-Chancellor 1990-1994). He was an Honorary Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford, a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology and a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He wrote countless articles and books, gave numerous lectures in the States and in Europe ranging from the 17th to the 20th century, from the history of physics to the history of astronomy and to the history of science. For the Italian reader I refer to some of them translated into Italian: Alle origini della fisica moderna (1984), I dilemmi di Max Planck (1988), Il sole nella Chiesa: le grandi chiese come osservatori astronomici (2005), Galileo: scienziato e umanista (2013).

When, on behalf of the SISFA Council, I proposed to him to give the keynote speech at our annual Congress held for 2023 in Padova last September to celebrate the 400^th anniversary of the publication of The Assayer, with his usual generosity and curiosity he immediately accepted the proposal and thus gave us his latest scientific contribution about Galileo’s book: . As fate would have it, he passed away right in the Padova of that Galileo so profoundly studied by him.

With him we lose an extraordinarily competent scholar in different fields of historical studies who could read and speak many languages, a liant lecturer, a passionate intellectual and teacher, in other words a true man of the Renaissance.

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