The Bologna Division of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) was established roughly 5 years after INFN had been founded on the 8th of August 1951 with a Decree from the President of the National Research Council (CNR). At the bottom of page 24 of the minutes of the 19th of July 1956 meeting of the INFN Board of Directors can be read: “Bernardini declares that the Director Board of INFN recognises that the time has come to make two associated groups that have reached a considerable level of development into Divisions of the INFN. These are the associate groups of Bologna and of Pisa.” Since 1953, Bologna had been an “associated group” of the Division of Padua, one of the four founding Divisions of the INFN along with Rome, Milan and Turin.
The history of the Bologna division is inextricably bound to Giampietro Puppi, who was the first Director from 1956 to 1960. In the chair since 1951, Puppi collaborated closely from 1955 with the municipality and the Mayor of Bologna Giuseppe Dozza, securing funding for 500 million liras over 10 years for the development of research and physics. At the same time, Marcello Conversi, Giampietro Puppi and Giorgio Salvini presented the proposal for a large liquid hydrogen bubble chamber to be built in Bologna under the leadership of Pietro Bassi, who had been called from Padua for his experience in this type of apparatus.
From this, a collaboration formed between groups from various Divisions and Universities (Bologna, Padua, Pisa, Rome and Trieste) for the construction of an instrument that was to be used by experiments at CERN between 1960 and 1961. This achievement led to a jump in the quality of experimental physics in Bologna and to the local infrastructure, including the mechanical workshop.
Since then the groups in Bologna have worked at the forefront of particle physics, contributing to the construction of cutting-edge technology equipments: worth recalling in particular the construction of gas detectors (limited streamer tubes, drift chambers, RPC, MRPC), scintillation and Cherenkov detectors, electronic scanning systems and the development of analog and digital electronics.
The vision of Antonino Zichichi, third director of the Bologna Division from 1967 to 1971 (the second one was Pietro Bassi) and INFN President from 1977 to 1983, led to the creation of the Gran Sasso National Laboratories, a unique world infrastructure for researches requiring a low environmental radioactivity background. At the end of the 1980s the Division started playing an important role also in astroparticle physics.
In 2006 Prof. Antonio Zoccoli was elected Director of the Section, member of the Executive Board from 2012 to 2019 and current President of INFN: with his action the integration of the Division into the city and regional fabric, inaugurated by Giampietro Puppi, received a further boost. As part of the European EuroHPC project and in synergy with CINECA, a new opportunity has arisen for a modern computing infrastructure, located at the Bologna Technopole. This new center will soon host “Leonardo”, the first pre-exascale supercomputer, characterized by a computing power exceeding 250 petaflops of peak power, available to research and industry, with applications on Big Data and artificial intelligence.
Currently the groups of the INFN Bologna Division are involved in a wide range of activities spanning over various sectors of theoretical physics and technological innovation. Noteworthy is their participation in all four main LHC experiments, with key contributions to the realization of experimental devices as well as in data analysis.