Research areas

  • D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
  • DG Italy
  • GC Oceanography
  • GE Environmental Sciences
  • HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
  • JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
  • QC Physics


  • Philosophy Degree (Diploma) at the Department of Philosophy and Epistemology, University of Rome "La Sapienza", 1992-1997
  • MSc in History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, 1999-2000
  • PhD, University of Manchester, 2000-2003. Thesis title: "Use, Refuse or Lock Them Up? A history of Italian Academic Refugees in Britain, 1930-1950".


What is science? Rather than been just the dispassionate search for the laws of nature it is also a mode of relation in contemporary society and within developed countries something that has been pursued with massive investments. Today's "big science" means influence and power. In my research I look in particular at how this influence and power filters through the relations between nations thus making 'science' a conduit for international affairs. Through my research I have explored these dimensions in two ways: firstly, the use of science in general, and international collaborative projects more specifically, as a means to strengthen bi-lateral and multi-lateral relations; secondly, the use of science as a practical tool to acquire information on other countries, their development and capability - in a sense as a support for intelligence-gathering.

Research interests

  • History of 20th Century Science and Technology
  • History of the Geosciences
  • Historiography of Science
  • Science and International Relations

I am interested in the recent science and technology, especially in connection with the emergence of ‘big science’ and the development of international relations. I am pursuing an interdisciplinary research programme which aims to provide a novel picture of the relations existing between the scientific community, the international diplomacy and the intelligence agencies, especially during the post-WW2 period and the Cold War years. I am also looking for ways to take these historical reflections into the present examining for instance the legacy of debates and policies on climate and environmental change, and atomic energy. 

The Earth Under Surveillance (TEUS)

From 2009 to 2014 I have been the Principal Investigator of this five-year research programme funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and titled TEUS. I have explored together with colleagues in Barcelona, Paris, and Strasbourg, the ancestry of scientific studies on the earth and the environment, and especially how the Cold War warped research and funding trajectories (see website: As result of this research the edited collection The Surveillance Imperative has recently been published. My co-workers and I have also written a number of articles in academic journals and contributed to a special BJHS issue on transnational history of science. I am currently working on a book discussing that draws on these themes and explores NATO's sponsorship of geoscientific research.

The Pontecorvo Affair

My doctoral thesis discusses scientific migrations across Europe from the inter-war years. One of the individual cases that I studied in greater detail is that of the Italian scientist Bruno Pontecorvo. A refugee physicist from Italy, he worked in top secret atomic research during WW2 and moved to Britain in the late 1940s. He then defected to Soviet Union, which concerned British security authorities in the light of 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, and the media. My book sheds new light on it. In 2007 the monograph Il Caso Pontecorvo was published by the editor Sironi. In the same year the documentary Le Campane del Cremlino was also produced by RAI, and the case has more recently been examined in Maksimovic. The Story of Bruno Pontecorvo.

I have worked on other topics. For instance, I have analysed the problems associated with the management of intellectual property rights in nuclear research (the so-called atomic patents). And in 2006 I joined an interdisciplinary team to look at the interplay of geopolitics and geoscientific exploration in Antarctica (an overview has been published in in Nature Geoscience). I have also contributed to the launch of a pioneering BL project on the oral history of British science. 


History of Climate Change (3rd year unit)

Science and the Modern World (1st year unit)

Teaching at master level on a variety of subjects including the history of the geosciences, the development of surveillance technology, the uses of science and technology in international relations.

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