The motivations that brought me to study the early life of Ottaviano Fabrizio
Mossotti come from the fact that notwithstanding his scientific importance and
outstanding contributions to astronomy, engineering and solid state physics,
there is no authoritative, complete or reliable biography about him. Mossotti
was highly considered by scientists like Carl Friedrich Gauss, Charles Babbage
and William Herschel. Some of the mathematical notation established by him was
taken on by Enrico Betti (he made some significant contributions to topology
and to other areas of mathematics) who had been his pupil. His ability in
theoretical physics and advanced mathematics allowed him to correct the
imperfections of some works by Jean and Jacques Bernoulli. Probably his most
significant contribution to physics was achieved with a paper published in
Turin in 1836 about the foundations of molecular physics. An important piece
of mathematical physics, the *Mossotti-Clausius formula*, concerning the
behaviour of the electrostatic dipole, still bears his name. It is therefore
quite curious that the study of his life has been neglected so much up to now.
One possible reason for this is that although his interest in politics was
rather mild, he was known to sympathize with democracy and liberalism, and such
views have been condemned by Italian history at least to the end of World War
II. Some of the most important histories of science compiled during the
fascism decades do not even mention his name.

Thu Feb 26 22:27:51 CET 1998