Volterra, Enrico 1905-1973

Birth 1905
Death 1973

Biographical notes:


Enrico Volterra was born June 11, 1905 in Rome, shortly after his father's appointment as Senator of the Kingdom of Italy. The family belonged to Italy's intellectual elite. His mother, Virginia Almagià, was an accomplished pianist and astute businesswoman, and his father, Vito, was professor of mathematics at the University of Rome and the undisputed head of the Italian school of mathematics until Mussolini became dictator in 1925. Enrico was one of six children, two of whom died shortly after birth. After graduation from the city's prestigious Liceo Classico Torquato Tasso, Volterra entered the University of Rome, where he received the degree of civil engineer with highest honors in 1928. That same year he also obtained his professional abilitazione in bridges and roads at the Polytechnic School of Engineering in Naples.

In the period 1930-1938, Volterra held a variety of industrial, research, and academic positions at home and abroad. After serving as assistant to the Chair of Marine Construction at Rome in 1930, he hastened to Paris and the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, where he did research on using photoelastic methods to analyze materials. Later that year, Volterra returned to Rome to start working as a civil engineer in the technical office of the Italian concrete and iron firm Ferrobeton; he worked there for five years and designed many bridges and buildings for this company. In the meantime, the Ministry of Public Instruction had awarded him a postdoctoral fellowship, which allowed him to study rational mechanics under the Roman mathematician Tullio Levi-Civita's direction.

In January 1933, he obtained the libera docenza in the science of structures from the University of Rome. Awarded an Italian government fellowship for study abroad, Volterra spent 1933 in Switzerland, where he worked in Professor Mirko Ros's materials testing laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, doing research on concrete and reinforced concrete. He also collaborated with Ros that year testing the structures for the new Palace of Nations in Geneva, the headquarters of the League of Nations.

Following his return to Rome in January 1934, Volterra became Levi-Civita's assistant. He also served as lecturer in graphical statics (1934-1938) and rational mechanics (1936-1938) for engineering students at Rome, and lectured on structures (1937-1938) as well in the university's school of architecture. Volterra remained active as a project engineer during these years, working on road construction in Sicily and various Egyptian construction projects in Alexandria.

The 1938 anti-Jewish racial laws ended Volterra's Italian university career. In February 1939, he left Italy and went to England. That September, when Britain declared war on Germany, Volterra was interned for several months on the Isle of Man. Later, with the help of colleagues at Cambridge University, Volterra became a member of King's College, Cambridge, joined the university's engineering laboratory as a research student, and received a PhD in Mechanics from Cambridge University in December 1941. Between 1943 and the end of World War II, he carried out research on plastics and rubber-like materials, under the direction of the versatile Trinity College applied mathematician G. I. Taylor.

In June 1946 Volterra returned briefly to Rome. While there, he served as a consultant to the National Research Council's Institute for Applied Mathematics, resumed teaching architectural students at the university, and served as an advisor to the government's ministry of public works.

Volterra's move to the New World came in 1949. Appointed associate professor of mechanics at Illinois Institute of Technology, he taught there for four years, followed by five years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. He joined the engineering faculty as professor of engineering mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin in 1957.

Enrico Volterra married Edith Duenk in 1952. They had two daughters. He died in Austin on June 29, 1973.

Biographical Note by Judith R. Goodstein.

From the guide to the Enrico Volterra Papers, 1910-2009, bulk 1930-1973, (California Institute of Technology. Caltech Archives)


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  • Civil engineering


  • Civil engineers


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