Ronchi, Vasco (1897-1988)

Vasco Ronchi was born on 19th December 1897 in Florence, Italy. He studied from 1915-1919 at the Faculty of Physics of the University of Pisa and was a pupil of L. Puccianti. During that time he served in the 1st World War and was awarded a medal. His doctoral thesis was published in 1919. As Assistant Researcher of Prof. Antonio Garbasso he worked at the Institute of Physics of the University of Florence from 1920.

He developed an interest in Optics and in 1922 published his method of testing even large optics with simple equipment. This test is known as the 'Ronchi Test'. This test involves a small diffraction grating with only 20 to 30 lines per mm. Some scientists refer to such a grating as a 'Ronchi'.

He made the development during one of his first tasks at the Institute of Physics. He had to test the then largest lens of the Astronomical Observatory of Arcetri, a 28 cm (11 inch) achromatic doublet with 533 cm focal length made by G. B. Amici in 1839. The test applied was the Hartmann-Test which required eight months to be completed. With Ronchi's development the test of large optics could then be made in very short time.

1923 the Italian Optical Association was founded and Vasco Ronchi was nominated Secretary. For the Association he organized the National Exhibition of Optical Instruments in 1934.

1925 he was a founding member and the first director (Dir. responsabile) of the National Institute of Optics in Florence. The work of this Institute was published in the Journal 'Ottica' from 1935 on.

1928 he was appointed Professor of Physics and he started to train Opticians as required by the Ministry of Health. These courses were a great success and the Institute of Optics grew from the then 6-rooms-building to an organization occupying 60 rooms today.

The first edition of his book 'History of Light', which he wrote on an invitation of Prof. Enriques of the University of Rome, was published by Zanichelli in Bologna in 1939. In 1952 the second edition, doubled in size, was published. A French and an English-American edition followed soon. 1983 another Italian edition was published by Laterza in Bari. All editions sold out quickly.

Ronchi's research on the history of optics revealed two lost or forgotten pieces: a 10 cm (4 inch) lens dated back to the times of Galileo and a 30 cm (12 inch) metal mirror polished by G. B. Amici.

1945, soon after the war, Ronchi founded the 'Fondazione Giorgio Ronchi', named for his son who had died in that war in 1944. This organization supported the publication of a new scientific Journal titled 'Atti della Fondazione Giorgio Ronchi'. This was because the 'Bulletin of the Italian Optical Association' and the publication 'Ottica' could not be printed during the war years due to lack of paper.

1953 Ronchi was elected President of the 'Union Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences' within the UNESCO and was reelected on four subsequent 3-year terms.

He resigned from the Directorship of the National Institute of Optics in 1975, aged 78. He had led the Institute for 58 years and was nominated 'Cavaliere di Gran Croce al Merito della Repubblica Italiana'.

His about 900 papers and 30 books were published in italian Italian as well as in foreign languages.

He was called to be member of the Optical Society of America (1935?) and later nominated 'Fellow' and 'Emeritus Fellow' of this organization.

Vasco Ronchi died on the 31. October 1988.

1. Poggendorff, Vol. 6.3 (1931), p. 2212
2. V. Ronchi, My Life in: 'Atti della Fondazione Giorgio Ronchi', 43 (1988), p. 668-677
This page created by Chris Plicht