Vito Volterra (3 May 1860 - 11 October 1940) was an
Italian mathematician and
physicist, known for his contributions to
mathematical biology and
integral equations.
Born in
Ancona, then part of the Papal States, into a very poor Jewish
family, Volterra showed early promise in mathematics before attending the University of Pisa, where he fell under
the influence of Enrico Betti, and
where he became professor of rational mechanics in 1883. He
immediately started work developing his theory of
functional which led to his
interest and later contributions in
integral and integro-differential
equations. His work is summarised in his book
Theory of
functionals and of Integral and Integro-Differential Equations
(1930).
In 1892,
he became professor of mechanics at the University of Turin and then, in 1900,
professor of mathematical physics at the University of
Rome La Sapienza. Volterra had grown up during the final stages
of the Risorgimento when the Papal
States were finally annexed by Italy and, like
his mentor Betti, he was an enthusiastic patriot, being named by
the king Victor Emmanuel III as
a senator of the Kingdom of Italy in
1905. In the same year, he began to develop the theory of
dislocations in
crystals that was later to become important in the
understanding of the behaviour of
ductile
materials. On the outbreak of
World War
I, already well into his 50s, he joined the
Italian Army and worked on the development
of
airships under
Giulio Douhet. He originated the idea of using
inert
helium rather than flammable
hydrogen and made use of his leadership abilities
in organising its manufacture.
After World War I, Volterra turned his attention to the application
of his mathematical ideas to biology, principally reiterating and
developing the work of
Pierre François Verhulst. The
most famous outcome of this period is the
Volterra-Lotka equations.
In 1922, he joined the opposition to the
Fascist regime of
Benito
Mussolini and in 1931 he was one of only 12 out of 1,250
professors who refused to take a mandatory oath of loyalty. His
political philosophy can be seen from a postcard he sent in the
1930s, on which he wrote what can be seen as an epitaph for
Mussolini’s Italy:
Empires die, but Euclid’s theorems keep
their youth forever. However, Volterra was no radical
firebrand; he might have been equally appalled if the leftist
opposition to Mussolini had come to power, since he was a lifelong
royalist and nationalist.
As a result of his refusal to sign the oath
of allegiance to the fascist government he was compelled to resign
his university post and his membership of scientific academies,
and, during the following years, he lived largely abroad, returning
to Rome just before his death.
Selected writings by Volterra
- 1910. Leçons sur les fonctions de lignes. Paris:
Gauthier-Villars.
- 1912. The theory of permutable functions. Princeton
University Press.
- 1913. Leçons sur les équations intégrales et les
équations intégro-différentielles. Paris:
Gauthier-Villars.
- 1926, "Variazioni e fluttuazioni del numero d'individui in
specie animali conviventi," Mem. R.
Accad. Naz. dei Lincei 2: 31–113.
- 1926, "Fluctuations in the abundance of a species considered
mathematically," Nature 118: 558-60.
- 1960. Sur les Distorsions des corps élastiques (with
Enrico Volterra). Paris: Gauthier-Villars.
- 1930. Theory of functionals and of integral and
integro-differential equations. Blackie & Son.
- 1931. Leçons sur la théorie mathématique de la lutte pour
la vie. Paris: Gauthier-Villars. Reissued 1990, Gabay, J.,
ed.
See also
References
External links