Roberto Lalli

Research Scholar
Research Scholars are early career scholars who have ordinarily already had at least one postdoctoral fellowship or equivalent academic experience. This is the equivalent of an entry-level academic position (e.g. assistant professor in North America, Lecturer in the United Kingdom, Maître de conférences in France). These scholars carry considerable responsibilities (no more than 30% of their time) within their research unit.
Department I
January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2018

Roberto has been a Research Scholar in Department I since 2013; he also works with the Research Program on the History of the Max Planck Society (GMPG). After having received his MSc in Physics (2007), Roberto Lalli earned a PhD in International History at the University of Milan (2011) with a dissertation on the controversial reception of relativity theories in France and the USA. He is a historian of modern physical sciences whose work focuses on the interconnections between social and epistemic factors in the production and circulation of novel products in theoretical physics and in the international standardization of scientific practices during the twentieth century.


From 2011 to 2013, Roberto was a Postdoctoral Fellow on the STS Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), under the supervision of David Kaiser. He has published extensively on the history of relativity theories, on the international and inter-institutional transfer of quantum theory, and on the evolution of editorial practices in physics. He is currently elaborating new methodologies based on the concepts and tools of the network theory in order to jointly analyze the evolution of scientific knowledge in physics, the creation of transnational scientific communities, and the developments of scientific institutions.

Selected publications

Lalli, R. (2016). ‘Dirty work’, but someone has to do it: Howard P. Robertson and the refereeing practices of Physical Review in the 1930s. Notes and Records, 70(2), 151-174. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2015.0022.

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Blum, A. S., Lalli, R., & Renn, J. (2015). The reinvention of general relativity: a historiographical framework for assessing one hundred years of curved space-time. Isis, 106(3), 598-620. doi:10.1086/683425.

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Lalli, R. (2015). 'The Renaissance of physics’: Karl K. Darrow (1891-1982) and the dissemination of quantum theory at the Bell Telephone Laboratories. In R. Pisano (Ed.), A bridge between conceptual frameworks: sciences, society and technology studies (pp. 249-273). Dordrecht: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9645-3_14.

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Lalli, R. (2013). Anti-relativity in action: the scientific activity of Herbert E. Ives between 1937 and 1953. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, 43(1), 41-104.

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Lalli, R. (2012). The Reception of Miller’s Ether-Drift Experiments in the USA: The History of a Controversy in Relativity Revolution. Annals of Science, 69(2), 153-214.

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Lalli, R. (2011). Effetto Sagnac (1913): Storia di un mancato dibattito nella Francia degli anni '20. Quaderni di Storia della Fisica, 17(1), 47-81.

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Lalli, R. (2014). A new scientific journal takes the scene: the birth of reviews of modern physics. Annalen der Physik, 526(9/10), A83-A87. doi:10.1002/andp.201400810.

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Renn, J., Wintergrün, D., Lalli, R., Laubichler, M., & Valleriani, M. (2016). Netzwerke als Wissensspeicher. In J. Mittelstraß, & U. Rüdiger (Eds.), Die Zukunft der Wissensspeicher: Forschen, Sammeln und Vermitteln im 21. Jahrhundert (pp. 35-79). München: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft Konstanz.

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7 November 2016
Invited talk at the Image, Knowledge Gestaltung. An Interdisciplinary Laboratory. Humboldt Universität
“Establishing a Scientific Field in the Post-WWII Era: A Network Analysis of the Renaissance of Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation.”
4-7 October 2016
Invited talk at the 36th Congress of the Italian Society for the History of Physics and Astronomy (SISFA)
“Back with a Flourish: Social and Epistemic Factors in the post-WWII Renaissance of General Relativity.”
March 2015
invited talk at the conference Publish or Perish? Scientific Periodicals from 1665 to the Present, Royal Society, London
‘Dirty work’ but someone has to do it: Howard P. Robertson and the refereeing practices of Physical Review in the 1930s.
January 2015
Space-Time Theories: Historical and Philosophical Contexts, Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
Building the Relativity Community in Post-World War II Era: The Role of Communication Channels and Stabilization Processes in the Renaissance of General Relativity
25 September 2013
Invited talk at the 99th Congress of the Italian Physical Society (SIF), Trieste
Special Relativity in the USA (1920-1940): The Relationship between Experimental Confirmations and Theoretical Controversies
20 June 2014
SILFS 2014, Triennial International Conference of the Italian Society for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Rome.
‘Geometry as a Branch of Physics’: Philosophy at Work in Howard P. Robertson’s Contributions to Relativity Theories
6 September 2014
6th International Conference of the European Society for the History of Science
Quantum Theory Enters the Bell System Laboratories: Communcating conceptual changes in an industrial laboratories
13 September 2013
“An Intellectual Life across Disciplines: Colloquium in Honour of John Stachel’s 85th Birthday,” at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany
Establishing the standards for publication in theoretical physics: Howard P. Robertson and the refereeing practice in the United States (1930-1940)
17 April 2013
Fishbein Workshops for the History of Science and Medicine, at the University of Chicago
Anti-Relativity in Action: The Scientific Activity of Herbert E. Ives between 1937 and 1953
5 September 2013
Invited talk at the 33th congress of the Italian Society for the History of Physics and Astronomy (SISFA), Acireale
The Interplay of Theoretical Assumptions and Experimental Practice in the History of 20th Century Ether-Drift Experiment
July 2012
HSS/BSHS/CSHPS 3-Society 2012 Meeting, Philadelphia, PA
Transferring the ether concept in the USA: Herbert E. Ives’s theory and his opposition to relativity
November 2011
HSS Annual Meeting, Cleveland, OH
Developing Consensus on Relativity: The Controversy about Miller’s Ether-Drift Experiments
July 15-18, 2015
Fourth conference on the History of Quantum Physics, San Sebastián, Spain
“‘The Renaissance of Physics’: Karl K. Darrow (1891-1982) and the Dissemination of Quantum Theory at the Bell Telephone Laboratories,”
Teaching activities
Summer 2017
Technische Universität BerlinIntroduction to Historical Network Research
University of MilanoHistory of modern physics


Max Planck Institute for the History of Science 
Boltzmannstraße 22 
14195 Berlin 

(+4930) 22667158

Curriculum Vitae