Giuseppe (Beppo) Occhialini was born in Fossombrone (Umbria) on 5 December 1907. He spent his childhood and adolescence following his father, Raffaele Augusto, around Italy from one university appointment to the next. Together with (Lord) Patrick Blackett, F.R.S. (P.R.S. 1965–70), his father was to be one of the people who most influenced Occhialini's life and way of thinking. Between 1911 and 1917 the family lived in Pisa; then Beppo (who was at that time still called Peppino) moved to Florence, where he lived with his mother, Etra, until he graduated from university in 1929. In the years that followed he worked at the Institute of Physics of the University of Florence, first as a temporary research assistant and later in a permanent appointment. The seat of the institute was then in Arcetri, very near the observatory and the ‘Gioiello’, the villa of Galileo's last years. The physics course had been established in Florence only a short time before, thanks to the influence of Antonio Garbasso and Enrico Persico, two charismatic figures in the incredible scientific ferment that was running through the Italy of the 1920s and 1930s. Years later, Beppo's romantic temperament was to recall, of the Physics Institute, that ‘the view from those windows made one forget the scantiness of the equipment, the lack of functionality of the convent-like structure and the difficulty of access’. To get to Arcetri, of course, he had to pedal up the hill on his bicycle from Florence.