Cesare Marchetti Web Archive
My CV as a personal story
(by C. Marchetti)


However after a couple of years Enrico Mattei presumably felt his imperial dream was fading and so did his interest for Agip Nucleare, the passe-partout to the Italian electric system. At that time another nuclear enterprise was founded by the emerging European Community, Euratom, and forecasting a dim future for Agip Nucleare I switched flag and went to Euratom, followed by my 50 collaborators. This was badly needed fresh blood as the general director Jules Gueron had money and power but no army as the jealous national nuclear organizations guarded their men, jealous that Euratom may overcome them. It was a start at the right time and after a few years I had a lab in the Ispra Research center and another at the Petten research center, with the number of collaborators grown finally by an order of magnitude, both labs in principle devoted to the study of materials, but in practice spreading on all sort of subjects.



Probably the most lasting result is the invention of the "Hydrogen economy" concept, born from the logic that with an energy market doubling every thirty years or so, hydrocarbons have to be totally substituted. Making only electricity as it was in the cards at that time, the sixties, one could substitute perhaps half of the fossil input, meaning that after a doubling one would be back to square one. And the concept was followed by the facts, we did develop thermo chemical water splitting processes starting from water and nuclear heat and ending into Hydrogen, Oxygen and degraded heat. With all chemical processing, materials development and medium scale sections of the plants. The concept was implanted in an energy island scheme, an atoll, exporting as much energy as the middle east and importing only machinery. Also waste disposal was taken care by self sinking of the radioactive products which can melt a way to the earth center through their decay heat. We made on scale experiment sinking electrically heated capsules in huge blocks of rock salt carried express from the Sicilian mines.



Euratom bureaucracy didn't like all that agitation, their main and actual concern being the European standards for shoe strings, and in spite of my personal success I saw dim times coming (they came) and took the first opportunity to change flag again. This time it was IIASA, the System Analysis Institute founded to give a peaceful contact point to Russians and Americans with the excuse of sounding the futures. I landed in a conference where the first managers were tinkering on how to concoct a research program on energy (it was 1972), I made a splash and was hired on the spot. Not the first one once again, just in the first five, but for a while I had to sit in the splendid shell of the Maria Theresa Schloss in Laxenburg if in the middle of a flock of movie boxes.



At the last count I have been there for thirty years, a life. Actually my first decision was to be there for the first three months of 1973, but the institute and I we were fitting snugly. The first problem was to meet a challenge set by our boss for the energy group Prof. Haefele, physicist and theologian: to find a simple and predictive model describing energy markets for the last century or so. For the beard of Newton. The time horizon for prediction of the institute was generically set at 50 years. Physicist dreams may come true, but our brilliant economists, Alan Mann and Bill Nordhaus thought better to look at their nails. As I had no peers to please and a certain spirit of adventure, I took the challenge. To fail would have been part of the game.

When facing impossible problems I give a look at the book of biological system. Having been around for four billion years in an extremely hostile environment they are a living library of working solutions. In this case I made the whimsical hunch that perhaps primary energies competing for a market might behave as species competing for a biological niche. It sounds as Pindaric flight of imagination, but it did work. These interspecies competitions were studied by mathematical biologists in the twenties and landed into the famous Volterra-Lotka equations. I have the prejudice that humanity is much simpler than biological systems and did stick with great success to the simplest solutions of the equations, logistics for one to one competitions and interacting logistics in the case of multiple competition.




Coming to brass tacks the evolution of the world energy markets for the last 150 years could be nicely fitted with a mathematical parsimony that Newton would certainly have appreciated. I was shocked realizing the incredible level of determinism in such intricate and supposedly whimsical system. As a physicist I felt this could not be an accident but a more general feature of social and economic systems. Thirty years later and with a few thousand cases analyzed in the most variegated contexts I can say the system appears deeply deterministic and in many ways predictable. I did not leave stones unturned and enjoyed the practical fruits of almost infallible forecasting. The detailed story of this historical exploration of the social and economic universe in width and dept is reported in my paper "From Terawatts to witches". All good for society, but in one of my latest papers, "Productivity versus Age", even the sancta sanctorum of personal freedom is violated and I show the large measure of subjacent determinism in our personal behavior.



One of the features I stumbled into when studying invention and innovation has been that of the Kondratiev cycles deeply modulating the activity of our society with ups and downs having a period of about 55 years. The cycle will modulate the acceptance of my discoveries but luckily I belong to a very longeve stock. And I am reassured of the final success by reading the Qumran scrolls where it is said that life moves in cycles of 50 years and when we open our mouth to speak God puts the words in. Intuition is an excellent competitor of science.

July 2003

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