Elected: 1946
Discipline: Unspecified at this time
Professor Guido Pontecorvo FRSE
Guido Pontecorvo was born on 29 November 1907 in Pisa and died in Switzerland on 25 September 1999. His parents, Masimo and Maria Pontecorvo, were prosperous members of the Jewish community in Pisa and had eight children, all of whom were successful – three of them at international level: Guido, Bruno (a nuclear physicist) and Gillo (a film director). Guido was the eldest child and he used to tell colleagues that it was his task to boil the water for the midwife whenever a new baby was expected in the family.

He initially studied at the Universities of Pisa (where he took a degree in agriculture in 1928) and Milan, subsequently specialising in the reproduction of silkworms and later of dairy cattle, and finally heading the animal breeding department of the Department of Agriculture in Tuscany. However, in 1938, sensing how the political situation in Europe was developing and in particular Mussolini’s behaviour towards Jews in Italy, he accepted a post in South America concerned with cattle breeding. Fortunately for many hundreds of students and for the science of genetics, before he crossed the Atlantic he visited Edinburgh to attend an International Genetics Congress. Here, he was fortunate enough to meet up with and impress both Nobel Laureate Hermann Muller and C. H. Waddington (who headed the Department of Genetics there for many years), eventually giving up his future in animal breeding as such, to enrol for a PhD with Muller. The latter instilled in Guido his ideas about the nature of the gene and launched his career in genetics.

Read full obituary