Nicola Cabibbo

Nicola Cabibbo (10 April 1935 – 16 August 2010[1]) was an Italian physicist, best known for his work on the weak interaction.

Nicola Cabibbo
Cabibbo in 2006
Born(1935-04-10)10 April 1935
Died16 August 2010(2010-08-16) (aged 75)
Rome, Italy
Known forCabibbo angle
AwardsSakurai Prize (1989)
Matteucci Medal (2002)
Pomeranchuk Prize (2009)
P.A.M. Dirac Medal (2010)
Benjamin Franklin Medal (2011, posthumous)
Scientific career
FieldsParticle physics
InstitutionsItalian National Institute of Nuclear Physics
Pontifical Academy of Sciences


Cabibbo, son of a Sicilian lawyer, was born in Rome.[2] He graduated in theoretical physics at the Università di Roma "Sapienza University of Rome" in 1958 under the supervision of Bruno Touschek. In 1963, while working at CERN, Cabibbo found the solution to the puzzle of the weak decays of strange particles, formulating what came to be known as Cabibbo universality. In 1967 Nicola settled back in Rome where he taught theoretical physics and created a large school with younger colleagues and brilliant students. He was president of the INFN from 1983 to 1992, during which time the Gran Sasso Laboratory was inaugurated. He was also president of the Italian energy agency, ENEA, from 1993 to 1998, and was president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences from 1993 until his death.[3] In 2004, Cabibbo spent a year at CERN as guest professor,[2] joining the NA48/2 collaboration.


Cabibbo's major work on the weak interaction originated from a need to explain two observed phenomena:

Cabibbo addressed these issues, following Murray Gell-Mann and Maurice Lévy, by postulating weak universality, which involves a similarity in the weak interaction coupling strength between different generations of particles. He addressed the second issue with a mixing angle θC (now[4] called the Cabibbo angle), between the down and strange quarks. Modern measurements show that θC = 13.04°.

Before the discovery of the third generation of quarks, this work was extended by Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa to the Cabibbo–Kobayashi–Maskawa matrix. In 2008, Kobayashi and Maskawa shared one half of the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work. Some physicists had bitter feelings that the Nobel Prize committee failed to reward Cabibbo for his vital part.[5][6] Asked for a reaction on the prize, Cabibbo preferred to give no comment. According to sources close to him, however, he was embittered.[7]

Later, Cabibbo researched applications of supercomputers to address problems in modern physics with the experiments APE 100 and APE 1000.

Cabibbo supported attempts to rehabilitate executed Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, citing the apologies on Galileo Galilei as a possible model to correct the historical wrongs done by the Church.[8]

After his death in 2011, the Franklin Institute awarded him with the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics.[9]


He died from respiratory problems in a Rome hospital on August 16, 2010 at the age of 75.

For his credits in physics, after his death, the great hall of La Sapienza's "Enrico Fermi" Physics New Department has been nominated after him in his honour.


  1. "Morto il fisico Cabibbo Gli fu negato il Nobel". Corriere della Sera (in Italian). 16 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  2. Altarelli, Guido; Maiani, Luciano; Petronzio, Roberto. "Nicola Cabibbo 1935–2010" (PDF). CERN Courier. 50 (9): 39.
  3. Maiani, Luciano (2010). "Obituary: Nicola Cabibbo (1935–2010)". Nature. 467 (7313): 284. Bibcode:2010Natur.467..284M. doi:10.1038/467284a. PMID 20844530.
  4. Introduced by Murray Gell-Mann and Maurice Lévy, in M. Gell-Mann, M. Lévy (1960). "The Axial Vector Current in Beta Decay". Il Nuovo Cimento. 16 (4): 705–726. Bibcode:1960NCim...16..705G. doi:10.1007/BF02859738.and referenced by Cabbibo in his paper
  5. 闫同民 (2013). "与2008年诺贝尔物理奖失之交臂的物理学家". 物理双月刊. 35: 354–357.
  6. Valerie Jamieson (7 October 2008). "Physics Nobel snubs key researcher". New Scientist. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
  7. "Nobel, l'amarezza dei fisici italiani" (in Italian). Corriere della Sera. 7 October 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
  8. "Un scientifique évoque la réhabilitation d'un théologien brûlé pour hérésie" (in French). Archived from the original on 2009-05-30.
  9. "Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics". Franklin Institute. 2011. Archived from the original on July 29, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Giovanni Battista Marini Bettòlo Marconi
President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
6 April 1993 – 16 August 2010
Succeeded by
Werner Arber
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