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Simone Turchetti

Simone Turchetti's research interests cover 20th century science and technology, geophysics and allied disciplines, relations between scientific community and intelligence organizations, scientific migrations, historiography of science, science policy.

Simone's become interested in the history of exploration geophysics when I looked into the circumstances of nuclear physicist Bruno Pontecorvo. A refugee scientist from Italy, Pontecorvo worked in top secret atomic research programmes during WW2 and moved to Britain in the late 1940s, also contributing to the development of new techniques for oil and uranium prospecting. He then defected to the Soviet Union, which concerned Western security authorities in the light of possible leaks of classified scientific information in connection with his mysterious departure. The Pontecorvo Affair was a game of revelations and deception in the dialogue between scientists, diplomats, intelligence officers, the media and the public. In 2007, Simone's monograph on the case was published by Sironi Editore in 2007 and has now been published by the University of Chicago Press as: The Pontecorvo Affair: A Cold War Defection and Nuclear Physics.

In 2006 Simone joined an interdisciplinary team including Simon Naylor, Martin Siegert and Katrina Dean to work on the project titled “A History of Sub-Glacial Antarctic explorations” in the context of a project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The project focused on the history of glaciological studies that allowed identifying the morphology of the Antarctic ice sheet. It also investigated the entanglement of science and politics in Antarctica focusing especially on the international regime set up with the Antarctic Treaty. The circumstances of Antarctica, its scientific exploration and its political context are described in several articles (see below).

Drawing on these two sets of studies, Simone's has decided to look deeper into the history of the geosciences in the 20th century, especially by examining its development in European countries during the nuclear age and the legacy of these studies with current preoccupations with environmental and climatic changes. He is interested in the development of environmental research at NATO and the rise of Richard Nixon’s ‘Environmental Diplomacy’. In particular, Simone's has recently looked at the history of a NATO sub-committee devoted to oceanography and its implications for scientific, political and military coordination within the alliance.

Simone's recent research for the TEUS project also uncovers the importance that seismological studies have had in international affairs. During the Cold War seismological studies became a key tool for the monitoring of nuclear explosions, thus playing a key role in the development of intelligence programmes and the diplomacy of arms control. In a forthcoming paper he considers the interplay between these two dimensions of seismological research, examining how international scientific collaboration was shaped by the conflicting urgencies of surveillance and policy-making especially in the relation between the US and its European allies.

These sets of considerations also inform recent historiographical work on transnational history of science (see recent edited volume below).


  • with Soraya Boudia and Nestor Herran (2012). Special Issue on Transnational History of Science. British Journal for the History of Science, 45(3) (Introduction, pp. 319-336) (
  • (2010). NATO: Cold-Warrior or Eco-Warrior? Research Europe, (308), 8-8.
  • (2009). A Contentious Business. Industrial Patents and the Production of Radioisotopes. Dynamis: Acta Hispanica ad Medicinae Scientiarumque Historiam Illustrandam, 29, 191-219.
  • with Simon Naylor, Katrina Dean, Martin Siegert (2008). Accidents and Opportunities. A History of the Radio Echo Sounding of Antarctica. British Journal for the History of Science, 41(3), 417-444.
  • with Simon Naylor, Katrina Dean, Martin Siegert (2008). On Thick Ice. Scientific Internationalism and Antarctic Affairs, 1957-1980. History and Technology, 24(4), 351-376.
  • (2007). Il Caso Pontecorvo. Milan: Sironi Editore.