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Ruggiero Boscovich

When it was founded in the mid-16th century, education formed an integral part of the Society of Jesus. As the Society grew over the coming decades and centuries, Jesuit schools provided the best learning and the brightest minds were attracted to join. Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich was one of the many great thinkers to find his way to the Society.

Born in Dubrovnik in 1711, Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich was the seventh of eight children. His father, a seasoned merchant, died when he was ten. Boscovich was schooled at a Jesuit college in Dubrovnik, before being sent to Rome at the age of fourteen, where he was further educated by Jesuits before entering the novitiate. Here he studied mathematics and physics, proving himself to have a keen scientific mind. Having completed his course by 1732, he then taught in Jesuit schools. Given his ability, he primarily taught at the Collegium Romanum, and found time during these years as a teacher to conduct his own research, including observing the transit of Mercury.

Later, Boscovich began his studies in theology, and it was decided to retain his post as teacher, creating an arduous and demanding schedule. In 1740 he was appointed professor of mathematics at the Collegium Romanum, so outstanding were his abilities. His talents were not limited to mathematics or astronomy; Boscovich saved the dome of St. Peter’s from ruin when he suggested placing iron rings around the cupola, after it was discovered a crack had begun to form in it.

A well regarded physicist and mathematician, Boscovich wrote nearly seventy papers on subjects ranging from optics to meteorology. In 1758 he published his most famous work, Theory of Natural philosophy derived to the single Law of forces which exist in Nature, in which he criticised some of Newton’s theories of absolute space and time, and developed the first general mathematical theory of atomism. Among his other accomplishments include determining the equator of a rotating planet from observing surface features, and showing the absence of an atmosphere on the moon.

Boscovich experienced difficulties as a Jesuit later in life, when in 1773 the Pope released a Papal Bull supressing the Society of Jesus. In the wake of this change, he moved to France where he lived for ten years, continuing his research. His health waning, Boscovich returned to Italy, where he died in 1786. In recognition of his work in astronomy, a lunar crater was named after him.

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