Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi

Overview
Enrico Fermi was an Italian-born, naturalized American physicist
Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

 particularly known for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

, Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1 was the world's first man-made nuclear reactor. CP-1 was built on a rackets court, under the abandoned west stands of the original Alonzo Stagg Field stadium, at the University of Chicago. The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated in CP-1 on December 2, 1942...

, and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, nuclear
Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those...

 and particle physics
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

, and statistical mechanics
Statistical mechanics
Statistical mechanics or statistical thermodynamicsThe terms statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics are used interchangeably...

. He was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics
Nobel Prize in Physics
The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded once a year by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895 and awarded since 1901; the others are the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Peace Prize, and...

 for his work on induced radioactivity
Induced radioactivity
Induced radioactivity occurs when a previously stable material has been made radioactive by exposure to specific radiation. Most radioactivity does not induce other material to become radioactive....

.

Fermi is widely regarded as one of the leading scientist
Scientist
A scientist in a broad sense is one engaging in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge. In a more restricted sense, a scientist is an individual who uses the scientific method. The person may be an expert in one or more areas of science. This article focuses on the more restricted use of the word...

s of the 20th century, highly accomplished in both theory and experiment. Along with J. Robert Oppenheimer, he is frequently referred to as "the father of the atomic bomb".
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Quotations

Although the problem of transmuting chemical elements into each other is much older than a satisfactory definition of the very concept of chemical element, it is well known that the first and most important step towards its solution was made only nineteen years ago by the late Lord Rutherford, who started the method of the nuclear bombardments.

Nobel lecture (1938-12-12)

I cannot think of a single one, not even intelligence.

When asked what characteristics Nobel prize winning physicists had in common. As quoted in Physics Today (October 1994)

I hope it won't take long.

Comment to Eugene Wigner|Eugene Wigner, ten days before his death from cancer, as quoted in The collected works of Eugene Paul Wigner (1992), p. 108

If I could remember the names of all these particles, I'd be a botanist.

As quoted in Hyperspace (1995) by Michio Kaku

There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery.

As quoted in Nuclear Principles in Engineering (2005) by Tatjana Jevremovic, p. 397
Encyclopedia
Enrico Fermi was an Italian-born, naturalized American physicist
Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

 particularly known for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

, Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1 was the world's first man-made nuclear reactor. CP-1 was built on a rackets court, under the abandoned west stands of the original Alonzo Stagg Field stadium, at the University of Chicago. The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated in CP-1 on December 2, 1942...

, and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, nuclear
Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those...

 and particle physics
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

, and statistical mechanics
Statistical mechanics
Statistical mechanics or statistical thermodynamicsThe terms statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics are used interchangeably...

. He was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics
Nobel Prize in Physics
The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded once a year by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895 and awarded since 1901; the others are the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Peace Prize, and...

 for his work on induced radioactivity
Induced radioactivity
Induced radioactivity occurs when a previously stable material has been made radioactive by exposure to specific radiation. Most radioactivity does not induce other material to become radioactive....

.

Fermi is widely regarded as one of the leading scientist
Scientist
A scientist in a broad sense is one engaging in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge. In a more restricted sense, a scientist is an individual who uses the scientific method. The person may be an expert in one or more areas of science. This article focuses on the more restricted use of the word...

s of the 20th century, highly accomplished in both theory and experiment. Along with J. Robert Oppenheimer, he is frequently referred to as "the father of the atomic bomb". He also held several patents related to the use of nuclear power.

Several awards, concepts, and institutions are named after Fermi, such as the Enrico Fermi Award
Enrico Fermi Award
The Enrico Fermi Award is an award honoring scientists of international stature for their lifetime achievement in the development, use, or production of energy. It is administered by the U.S. government's Department of Energy...

, the Enrico Fermi Institute
Enrico Fermi Institute
The Institute for Nuclear Studies was founded September, 1945 as part of the University of Chicago with Samuel King Allison as director. On November 20, 1955 it was renamed The Enrico Fermi Institute for Nuclear Studies...

, the Fermi National Accelerator Lab
Fermilab
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory , located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics...

, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station
Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station
The Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station is a nuclear power plant on the shore of Lake Erie near Monroe, in Frenchtown Charter Township, Michigan. It is approximately halfway between Detroit, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio. It is also visible from parts of Amherstburg, Ontario. Two units have been...

, a type of particle called fermion
Fermion
In particle physics, a fermion is any particle which obeys the Fermi–Dirac statistics . Fermions contrast with bosons which obey Bose–Einstein statistics....

s, the synthetic element fermium
Fermium
Fermium is a synthetic element with the symbol Fm. It is the 100th element in the periodic table and a member of the actinide series. It is the heaviest element that can be formed by neutron bombardment of lighter elements, and hence the last element that can be prepared in macroscopic quantities,...

, and many more.

Early years


Enrico Fermi was born in Rome to Alberto Fermi, a Chief Inspector of the Ministry of Communications, and Ida de Gattis, an elementary school teacher who built her own pressure cooker. As a young boy, he shared his interests with his older brother, Giulio. They dismantled small engines and other parts. When Giulio died unexpectedly of a throat abscess in 1915, Enrico was distraught, and immersed himself in scientific study to distract himself. According to his own account, each day he would walk in front of the hospital in which Giulio died until he became inured to the pain.

One of the first sources for the study of physics was a book found at the local market of Campo de' Fiori
Campo de' Fiori
Campo de' Fiori is a rectangular square near Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy, on the border of rione Parione and rione Regola. Campo de' Fiori, translated literally from Italian, means "field of flowers"...

 in Roma. The 900 page book, titled Elementorum physicae mathematicae, written in Latin by Jesuit Father Andrea Caraffa, a professor at the Collegio Romano, covered subjects like mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

, classical mechanics
Classical mechanics
In physics, classical mechanics is one of the two major sub-fields of mechanics, which is concerned with the set of physical laws describing the motion of bodies under the action of a system of forces...

, astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

, optics
Optics
Optics is the branch of physics which involves the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behavior of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light...

, and acoustics
Acoustics
Acoustics is the interdisciplinary science that deals with the study of all mechanical waves in gases, liquids, and solids including vibration, sound, ultrasound and infrasound. A scientist who works in the field of acoustics is an acoustician while someone working in the field of acoustics...

. Notes found in the book indicate that Fermi studied it intensely. Later, Enrico befriended another scientifically inclined student named Enrico Persico
Enrico Persico
Enrico Persico was an Italian physicist notable for propagating the field of quantum mechanics in Italy. He was a professor at the University of Turin and is also notable as the doctoral advisor of Ugo Fano.-Career:...

, and the two worked together on scientific projects such as building gyroscope
Gyroscope
A gyroscope is a device for measuring or maintaining orientation, based on the principles of angular momentum. In essence, a mechanical gyroscope is a spinning wheel or disk whose axle is free to take any orientation...

s, and measuring the Earth's magnetic field
Earth's magnetic field
Earth's magnetic field is the magnetic field that extends from the Earth's inner core to where it meets the solar wind, a stream of energetic particles emanating from the Sun...

. Fermi's interest in physics was further encouraged by Adolfo Amidei, a friend of his father, who gave him several books on physics and mathematics, which he read and assimilated quickly.

Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa


In 1918 Fermi enrolled at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa
Pisa
Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa...

, where he was later to receive his undergraduate and doctoral degree. In order to enter the Institute, candidates had to take an entrance exam which included an essay. For his essay on the given theme Characteristics of Sound, 17-year-old Fermi chose to derive and solve the Fourier analysis based partial differential
Partial derivative
In mathematics, a partial derivative of a function of several variables is its derivative with respect to one of those variables, with the others held constant...

 equation for waves on a string. The examiner, Prof. Giulio Pittato, interviewed Fermi and concluded that his essay would have been commendable even for a doctoral degree. Enrico Fermi achieved first place in the classification of the entrance exam. During his years at the Scuola Normale Superiore, Fermi teamed up with a fellow student named Franco Rasetti
Franco Rasetti
Franco Dino Rasetti was an Italian scientist. Together with Enrico Fermi, discovered key processes leading to nuclear fission. Rasetti refused to work on the Manhattan Project, however, on moral grounds...

 with whom he would indulge in light-hearted pranks. Later, Rasetti became Fermi's close friend and collaborator. Besides attending the classes, Enrico Fermi found the time to work on his extracurricular activities, particularly with the help of his friend Enrico Persico, who remained in Rome to attend the university. Between 1919 and 1923 Fermi studied general relativity
General relativity
General relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...

, quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

 and atomic physics
Atomic physics
Atomic physics is the field of physics that studies atoms as an isolated system of electrons and an atomic nucleus. It is primarily concerned with the arrangement of electrons around the nucleus and...

.

His knowledge of quantum physics reached such a high level that the head of the Physics Institute, Prof. Luigi Puccianti
Luigi Puccianti
Luigi Puccianti is notable for having constructed a highly sensitive spectrograph, with which he studied the infrared absorption of many compounds and attempted to correlate the spectra with molecular structure...

, asked him to organize seminars about that topic. During this time he learned tensor calculus, a mathematical instrument invented by Gregorio Ricci and Tullio Levi-Civita
Tullio Levi-Civita
Tullio Levi-Civita, FRS was an Italian mathematician, most famous for his work on absolute differential calculus and its applications to the theory of relativity, but who also made significant contributions in other areas. He was a pupil of Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro, the inventor of tensor calculus...

, and needed to demonstrate the principles of general relativity
General relativity
General relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...

. In 1921, his third year at the university, he published his first scientific works in the Italian journal Nuovo Cimento
Nuovo Cimento
Nuovo Cimento is a series of peer-reviewed scientific journals of physics. The series was first established in 1855 in Pisa, Italy, when Carlo Matteucci and Raffaele Piria started publishing Il Nuovo Cimento as the continuation of Il Cimento, which they founded in 1844...

: the first was titled: On the dynamics of a solid system of electrical charges in transient conditions; the second: On the electrostatics of a uniform gravitational field of electromagnetic charges and on the weight of electromagnetic charges. At first glance, the first paper seemed to point out a contradiction between the electrodynamic theory and the relativistic one concerning the calculation of the electromagnetic masses. After one year with a work entitled Correction of severe discrepancy between electrodynamic theory and the relativistic one of electromagnetic charges. Inertia and weight of electricity, Enrico Fermi showed the correctness of his paper. This last publication was so successful that it was translated into German and published in the famous German scientific journal Physikalische Zeitschrift
Physikalische Zeitschrift
Physikalische Zeitschrift was a German scientific journal of physics published from 1899 to 1945 by S. Hirzel Verlag...

.


In 1922 he published his first important scientific work in the Italian journal I Rendiconti dell'Accademia dei Lincei entitled "On the phenomena that happen close to the line of time", where he introduces for the first time the so-called "Fermi coordinates
Fermi coordinates
In the mathematical theory of Riemannian geometry, Fermi coordinates are local coordinates that are adapted to a geodesic.More formally, suppose M is an n-dimensional Riemannian manifold, \gamma is a geodesic on M, and p is a point on \gamma...

", and proves that when close to the time line, space behaves as a euclidean one. In 1922 Fermi graduated from Scuola Normale Superiore.

In 1923, while writing the appendix for the Italian edition of the book The Mathematical Theory of Relativity by A. Kopff, Enrico Fermi pointed out, for the first time, that hidden inside the famous Einstein equation , there was an enormous amount of nuclear potential energy to be exploited.

Fermi's Ph.D advisor was Luigi Puccianti
Luigi Puccianti
Luigi Puccianti is notable for having constructed a highly sensitive spectrograph, with which he studied the infrared absorption of many compounds and attempted to correlate the spectra with molecular structure...

. In 1924 Fermi spent a semester at the University of Göttingen, and then stayed for a few months in Leiden with Paul Ehrenfest
Paul Ehrenfest
Paul Ehrenfest was an Austrian and Dutch physicist, who made major contributions to the field of statistical mechanics and its relations with quantum mechanics, including the theory of phase transition and the Ehrenfest theorem.- Biography :Paul Ehrenfest was born and grew up in Vienna in a Jewish...

. From January 1925 to the autumn of 1926, he stayed at the University of Florence
University of Florence
The University of Florence is a higher study institute in Florence, central Italy. One of the largest and oldest universities in the country, it consists of 12 faculties...

. In this period he wrote his work on the Fermi–Dirac statistics.

Professor in Rome


Aged 24, Fermi took a professorship at the University of Rome (first in atomic physics
Atomic physics
Atomic physics is the field of physics that studies atoms as an isolated system of electrons and an atomic nucleus. It is primarily concerned with the arrangement of electrons around the nucleus and...

 in Italy) which he won in a competition held by Professor Orso Mario Corbino
Orso Mario Corbino
Orso Mario Corbino was an Italian physicist and politician. He served as the minister for education in 1921 and as the minister for economy in 1921. He also served as professor in Messina and in Rome...

, director of the Institute of Physics. Corbino helped Fermi in selecting his team, which soon was joined by notable minds like Edoardo Amaldi
Edoardo Amaldi
Edoardo Amaldi was an Italian physicist.He was born in Carpaneto Piacentino, son of Ugo Amaldi, professor of mathematics at the University of Padua, and Luisa Basini....

, Bruno Pontecorvo
Bruno Pontecorvo
Bruno Pontecorvo was an Italian-born nuclear physicist, an early assistant of Enrico Fermi and then the author of numerous studies in high energy physics, especially on neutrinos. According to Oleg Gordievsky and Pavel Sudoplatov , Pontecorvo was also a Soviet agent...

, Franco Rasetti
Franco Rasetti
Franco Dino Rasetti was an Italian scientist. Together with Enrico Fermi, discovered key processes leading to nuclear fission. Rasetti refused to work on the Manhattan Project, however, on moral grounds...

 and Emilio Segrè
Emilio G. Segrè
Emilio Gino Segrè was an Italian-born, naturalized American, physicist and Nobel laureate in physics, who with Owen Chamberlain, discovered antiprotons, a sub-atomic antiparticle.-Biography:...

. For the theoretical studies only, Ettore Majorana
Ettore Majorana
Ettore Majorana was an Italian theoretical physicist who began work on neutrino masses. He disappeared suddenly in mysterious circumstances. He is noted for the eponymous Majorana equation and for Majorana fermions.-Gifted in mathematics:Majorana was born in Catania, Sicily...

 also took part in what was soon nicknamed "the Via Panisperna boys
Via Panisperna boys
The Via Panisperna boys were a group of young scientists led by Enrico Fermi. In Rome in 1934, they made the famous discovery of slow neutrons which made later possible the nuclear reactor, and then the construction of the first atomic bomb.The nickname of the group comes from the address of the...

" (after the name of the road in which the Institute had its labs).
The group went on with its now famous experiments, but in 1933 Rasetti left Italy for Canada and the United States, Pontecorvo went to France and Segrè left to teach in Palermo
Palermo
Palermo is a city in Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Province of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old...

.

During their time in Rome, Fermi and his group made important contributions to many practical and theoretical aspects of physics. These include the theory of beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

, later referred to as the theory of the "weak interaction" (one of the 4 basic forces in nature, then brand new) with the inclusion of the neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

 postulated in 1930 by Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Ernst Pauli was an Austrian theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum physics. In 1945, after being nominated by Albert Einstein, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature, the exclusion principle or...

, and the discovery of slow neutrons, which was to prove pivotal for the working of nuclear reactors. His group systematically bombarded elements with slow neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

s, and during their experiments with uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

, narrowly missed observing nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

. At that time, fission was thought to be improbable if not impossible, mostly on theoretical grounds. While people expected elements with higher atomic number
Atomic number
In chemistry and physics, the atomic number is the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom and therefore identical to the charge number of the nucleus. It is conventionally represented by the symbol Z. The atomic number uniquely identifies a chemical element...

 to form from neutron bombardment of lighter elements, nobody expected neutrons to have enough energy to actually split a heavier atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

 into two light element fragments. However, the chemist Ida Noddack
Ida Noddack
Ida Noddack , née Ida Tacke, was a German chemist and physicist. She was the first to mention the idea of nuclear fission in 1934. With her husband Walter Noddack she discovered element 75 rhenium...

 had criticised Fermi's work and had suggested that some of his experiments could have produced lighter elements. At the time, Fermi dismissed this possibility on the basis of calculations.

Fermi was well known for his simplicity in solving problems. He began his inquiries with the simplest lines of mathematical reasoning, then later produced complete solutions to the problems he deemed worth pursuing. His abilities as a great scientist, combining theoretical and applied nuclear physics, were acknowledged by all. He influenced many physicists who worked with him, such as Hans Bethe
Hans Bethe
Hans Albrecht Bethe was a German-American nuclear physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. A versatile theoretical physicist, Bethe also made important contributions to quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, solid-state physics and...

, who spent two semesters working with Fermi in the early 1930s. From the time he was a boy, Fermi meticulously recorded his calculations in notebooks, and later used them to solve many new problems that he encountered based on these earlier known problems.

When Fermi submitted his paper on beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

 to the prestigious journal Nature
Nature (journal)
Nature, first published on 4 November 1869, is ranked the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports...

, the journal's editor
Editing
Editing is the process of selecting and preparing written, visual, audible, and film media used to convey information through the processes of correction, condensation, organization, and other modifications performed with an intention of producing a correct, consistent, accurate, and complete...

 turned it down because "it contained speculations which were too remote from reality". Thus Fermi saw the theory published in Italian and in German before it was published in English. Nature
Nature (journal)
Nature, first published on 4 November 1869, is ranked the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports...

eventually did publish Fermi's report on beta decay on January 16, 1939.

Fermi remained in Rome until 1938.

The Manhattan Project



In 1938, Fermi received the Nobel Prize in Physics
Nobel Prize in Physics
The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded once a year by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895 and awarded since 1901; the others are the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Peace Prize, and...

 at the age of 37 for his "demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation
Irradiation
Irradiation is the process by which an object is exposed to radiation. The exposure can originate from various sources, including natural sources. Most frequently the term refers to ionizing radiation, and to a level of radiation that will serve a specific purpose, rather than radiation exposure to...

, and for his related discovery of nuclear reaction
Nuclear reaction
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

s brought about by slow neutrons". After Fermi received the Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 in Stockholm
Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

, he, his wife Laura, and their children emigrated to New York. This was mainly because of the Manifesto of Race promulgated by the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

 in order to bring Italian Fascism ideologically closer to German Nazism. The new laws threatened Laura, who was Jewish. Also, the new laws put most of Fermi's research assistants out of work. Soon after his arrival in New York, Fermi began working at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

.

In December 1938, the German chemists Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn FRS was a German chemist and Nobel laureate, a pioneer in the fields of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He is regarded as "the father of nuclear chemistry". Hahn was a courageous opposer of Jewish persecution by the Nazis and after World War II he became a passionate campaigner...

 and Fritz Strassmann
Fritz Strassmann
Friedrich Wilhelm "Fritz" Strassmann was a German chemist who, with Otto Hahn in 1938, identified barium in the residue after bombarding uranium with neutrons, which led to the interpretation of their results as being from nuclear fission...

 sent a manuscript to Naturwissenschaften
Die Naturwissenschaften
Naturwissenschaften is a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal published by Springer on behalf of several learned societies.- History :...

reporting they had detected the element barium
Barium
Barium is a chemical element with the symbol Ba and atomic number 56. It is the fifth element in Group 2, a soft silvery metallic alkaline earth metal. Barium is never found in nature in its pure form due to its reactivity with air. Its oxide is historically known as baryta but it reacts with...

 after bombarding uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 with neutrons; simultaneously, they communicated these results to Lise Meitner
Lise Meitner
Lise Meitner FRS was an Austrian-born, later Swedish, physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission, an achievement for which her colleague Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize...

. Meitner, and her nephew Otto Robert Frisch
Otto Robert Frisch
Otto Robert Frisch , Austrian-British physicist. With his collaborator Rudolf Peierls he designed the first theoretical mechanism for the detonation of an atomic bomb in 1940.- Overview :...

, correctly interpreted these results as being nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

. Following an advice of George Placzek
George Placzek
Georg Placzek was a Czech physicist.Born in Brno, Moravia, Placzek studied physics in Prague and Vienna. He worked with Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, Rudolf Peierls, Werner Heisenberg, Victor Weisskopf, Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, Lev Landau, Edoardo Amaldi, Emilio Segrè, Leon van Hove and many other...

, Frisch confirmed this experimentally on 13 January 1939.


Meitner's and Frisch's interpretation of the work of Hahn and Strassmann crossed the Atlantic Ocean with Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

, who was to lecture at Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

. Isidor Isaac Rabi
Isidor Isaac Rabi
Isidor Isaac Rabi was a Galician-born American physicist and Nobel laureate recognized in 1944 for his discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance.-Early years:...

 and Willis Lamb
Willis Lamb
Willis Eugene Lamb, Jr. was an American physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955 together with Polykarp Kusch "for his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum". Lamb and Kusch were able to precisely determine certain electromagnetic properties of the electron...

, two Columbia University physicists working at Princeton, heard the news and carried it back to Columbia. Rabi said he told Enrico Fermi; Fermi gave credit to Lamb. Bohr soon thereafter went from Princeton to Columbia to see Fermi. Not finding Fermi in his office, Bohr went down to the cyclotron area and found Herbert L. Anderson
Herbert L. Anderson
Herbert Lawrence Anderson was an American nuclear physicist who contributed to the Manhattan Project. He was also a member of the team which made the first demonstration of nuclear fission in the United States, in the basement of Pupin Hall at Columbia University. He participated in the first...

. Bohr grabbed him by the shoulder and said: “Young man, let me explain to you about something new and exciting in physics.” It was clear to a number of scientists at Columbia that they should try to detect the energy released in the nuclear fission of uranium from neutron bombardment. On 25 January 1939, a Columbia University team conducted the first nuclear fission experiment in the United States, which was done in the basement of Pupin Hall
Pupin Hall
Pupin Physics Laboratories, also known as Pupin Hall is home to the physics and astronomy departments of the Columbia University in New York City and a National Historic Landmark...

; the members of the team were Herbert L. Anderson
Herbert L. Anderson
Herbert Lawrence Anderson was an American nuclear physicist who contributed to the Manhattan Project. He was also a member of the team which made the first demonstration of nuclear fission in the United States, in the basement of Pupin Hall at Columbia University. He participated in the first...

, Eugene T. Booth
Eugene T. Booth
Eugene Theodore Booth was an American nuclear physicist. He was a member of the historic Columbia University team which made the first demonstration of nuclear fission in the United States. During the Manhattan Project, he worked on gaseous diffusion for isotope separation...

, John R. Dunning
John R. Dunning
John Ray Dunning was an American physicist who played key roles in the development of the atomic bomb. He specialized in neutron physics and did pioneering work in gaseous diffusion for isotope separation...

, Enrico Fermi, G. Norris Glasoe, and Francis G. Slack
Francis G. Slack
Francis Goddard Slack was an American physicist. He was a physics teacher, researcher, and administrator in academia who was renowned for placing equal emphasis on teaching and on research.-Education:...

. The next day, the Fifth Washington Conference on Theoretical Physics began in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 under the joint auspices of The George Washington University and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. There, the news on nuclear fission was spread even further, which fostered many more experimental demonstrations.

While at Columbia during World War II, Fermi and his wife resided in Leonia, New Jersey
Leonia, New Jersey
Leonia is a borough in Bergen County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the borough population was 8,937. It is located near the western approach to the George Washington Bridge....

.

Fermi then went to the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 and began studies that led to the construction of the first nuclear pile Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1 was the world's first man-made nuclear reactor. CP-1 was built on a rackets court, under the abandoned west stands of the original Alonzo Stagg Field stadium, at the University of Chicago. The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated in CP-1 on December 2, 1942...

.

Fermi recalled the beginning of the project in a speech given in 1954 when he retired as President of the American Physical Society
American Physical Society
The American Physical Society is the world's second largest organization of physicists, behind the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft. The Society publishes more than a dozen scientific journals, including the world renowned Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, and organizes more than 20...

:
"I remember very vividly the first month, January, 1939, that I started working at the Pupin Laboratories because things began happening very fast. In that period, Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

 was on a lecture engagement at the Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 and I remember one afternoon Willis Lamb
Willis Lamb
Willis Eugene Lamb, Jr. was an American physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955 together with Polykarp Kusch "for his discoveries concerning the fine structure of the hydrogen spectrum". Lamb and Kusch were able to precisely determine certain electromagnetic properties of the electron...

 came back very excited and said that Bohr had leaked out great news. The great news that had leaked out was the discovery of fission and at least the outline of its interpretation. Then, somewhat later that same month, there was a meeting in Washington
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 where the possible importance of the newly discovered phenomenon of fission was first discussed in semi-jocular earnest as a possible source of nuclear power
Nuclear power
Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

."

In August 1939 Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd was an Austro-Hungarian physicist and inventor who conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature that resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb...

 prepared and Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

 signed the famous letter warning President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 of the probability that the Nazis were planning to build an atomic bomb. Because of Hitler's September 1 invasion
Invasion
An invasion is a military offensive consisting of all, or large parts of the armed forces of one geopolitical entity aggressively entering territory controlled by another such entity, generally with the objective of either conquering, liberating or re-establishing control or authority over a...

 of Poland, it was October before they could arrange for the letter to be personally delivered. Roosevelt was concerned enough that the Uranium Committee was assembled, and awarded Columbia University the first nuclear power
Nuclear power
Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

 funding of US$6,000. However, due to bureaucratic fears of foreigners doing secret research, the money was not actually issued until Szilárd implored Einstein to send a second letter to the president in the spring of 1940. The money was used in studies which led to the first nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

 — Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1
Chicago Pile-1 was the world's first man-made nuclear reactor. CP-1 was built on a rackets court, under the abandoned west stands of the original Alonzo Stagg Field stadium, at the University of Chicago. The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated in CP-1 on December 2, 1942...

, a massive "atomic pile" of graphite
Graphite
The mineral graphite is one of the allotropes of carbon. It was named by Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1789 from the Ancient Greek γράφω , "to draw/write", for its use in pencils, where it is commonly called lead . Unlike diamond , graphite is an electrical conductor, a semimetal...

 bricks and uranium fuel which went critical
Critical mass
A critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The critical mass of a fissionable material depends upon its nuclear properties A critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The...

 on December 2, 1942, built in a hard racquets court under Stagg Field
Stagg Field
Amos Alonzo Stagg Field is the name of two different football fields for the University of Chicago. The earliest Stagg Field is probably best remembered for its role in a landmark scientific achievement by Enrico Fermi during the Manhattan Project. The site of the first nuclear reaction received...

, the football
American football
American football is a sport played between two teams of eleven with the objective of scoring points by advancing the ball into the opposing team's end zone. Known in the United States simply as football, it may also be referred to informally as gridiron football. The ball can be advanced by...

 stadium at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

. Due to a mistranslation, Soviet reports on Enrico Fermi claimed that his work was performed in a converted "pumpkin
Pumpkin
A pumpkin is a gourd-like squash of the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae . It commonly refers to cultivars of any one of the species Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita moschata, and is native to North America...

 field" instead of a "squash court
Squash (sport)
Squash is a high-speed racquet sport played by two players in a four-walled court with a small, hollow rubber ball...

", squash being an offshoot of hard racquet. This experiment was a landmark in the quest for energy, and it was typical of Fermi's brilliance. Every step had been carefully planned, every calculation meticulously done by him. When the first self-sustained nuclear chain reaction was achieved, a coded phone call was made by one of the physicists, Arthur Compton
Arthur Compton
Arthur Holly Compton was an American physicist and Nobel laureate in physics for his discovery of the Compton effect. He served as Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis from 1945 to 1953.-Early years:...

, to James Conant
James Bryant Conant
James Bryant Conant was a chemist, educational administrator, and government official. As thePresident of Harvard University he reformed it as a research institution.-Biography :...

, chairman of the National Defense Research Committee. The conversation was in impromptu code:


This successful initiation of a chain-reacting pile was important not only for its help in assessing the properties of fission — needed for understanding the internal workings of an atomic bomb — but also because it would serve as a pilot plant for the massive reactors which would be created in Hanford, Washington
Hanford Site
The Hanford Site is a mostly decommissioned nuclear production complex on the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington, operated by the United States federal government. The site has been known by many names, including Hanford Works, Hanford Engineer Works or HEW, Hanford Nuclear Reservation...

, which would then be used to produce the plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 needed for the bombs used at the Trinity site and Nagasaki. Eventually Fermi and Szilárd's reactor work was folded into the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

.

Fermi moved to Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

 in the later stages of the Manhattan Project to serve as a general consultant
Consultant
A consultant is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as management, accountancy, the environment, entertainment, technology, law , human resources, marketing, emergency management, food production, medicine, finance, life management, economics, public...

. He was sitting in the control room of the Hanford B Reactor when it first went critical in 1944. His broad knowledge of many fields of physics was useful in solving problems that were of an interdisciplinary nature. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America in 1944.

Fermi was present as an observer of the Trinity test
Trinity test
Trinity was the code name of the first test of a nuclear weapon. This test was conducted by the United States Army on July 16, 1945, in the Jornada del Muerto desert about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, at the new White Sands Proving Ground, which incorporated the Alamogordo Bombing...

 on July 16, 1945. Engineer Jack Aeby
Jack Aeby
Jack W. Aeby is an American mechanical engineer most famous for having taken the only well-exposed color photograph of the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945 at the Trinity site, New Mexico...

 saw Fermi at work:
Fermi's strips-of-paper estimate was ten kilotons of TNT; the actual yield was about 19 kilotons.

In 1947, Fermi invented the FERMIAC
FERMIAC
The Monte Carlo trolley, or FERMIAC, was an analog computer invented by physicist Enrico Fermi to aid in his studies of neutron transport.- Operation :...

, an analog computer that used the Monte Carlo Method
Monte Carlo method
Monte Carlo methods are a class of computational algorithms that rely on repeated random sampling to compute their results. Monte Carlo methods are often used in computer simulations of physical and mathematical systems...

 to study neutron transport through fissionable materials.

Post-war work


In Fermi's 1954 address to the American Physical Society
American Physical Society
The American Physical Society is the world's second largest organization of physicists, behind the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft. The Society publishes more than a dozen scientific journals, including the world renowned Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, and organizes more than 20...

 (APS) he also said, "Well, this brings us to Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

. That is the time when I left Columbia University, and after a few months of commuting between Chicago and New York, eventually moved to Chicago to keep up the work there, and from then on, with a few notable exceptions, the work at Columbia was concentrated on the isotope separation
Isotope separation
Isotope separation is the process of concentrating specific isotopes of a chemical element by removing other isotopes, for example separating natural uranium into enriched uranium and depleted uranium. This is a crucial process in the manufacture of uranium fuel for nuclear power stations, and is...

 phase of the atomic energy project, initiated by Booth, Dunning and Urey about 1940".

Fermi was widely regarded as the only physicist of the twentieth century who excelled both theoretically and experimentally. The well-known historian of physics, C. P. Snow
C. P. Snow
Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow of the City of Leicester CBE was an English physicist and novelist who also served in several important positions with the UK government...

, says about him, "If Fermi had been born a few years earlier, one could well imagine him discovering Rutherford's
Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS was a New Zealand-born British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics...

 atomic nucleus, and then developing Bohr's theory
Bohr model
In atomic physics, the Bohr model, introduced by Niels Bohr in 1913, depicts the atom as a small, positively charged nucleus surrounded by electrons that travel in circular orbits around the nucleus—similar in structure to the solar system, but with electrostatic forces providing attraction,...

 of the hydrogen atom. If this sounds like hyperbole, anything about Fermi is likely to sound like hyperbole". Fermi's ability and success stemmed as much from his appraisal of the art of the possible, as from his innate skill and intelligence. He disliked complicated theories, and while he had great mathematical ability, he would never use it when the job could be done much more simply. He was famous for getting quick and accurate answers to problems which would stump other people. Later on, his method of getting approximate and quick answers through back-of-the-envelope calculations became informally known as the 'Fermi method'
Fermi problem
In science, particularly in physics or engineering education, a Fermi problem, Fermi question, or Fermi estimate is an estimation problem designed to teach dimensional analysis, approximation, and the importance of clearly identifying one's assumptions...

.

Fermi's most disarming trait was his great modesty, and his ability to do any kind of work, whether creative or routine. It was this quality that made him popular and liked among people of all strata, from other Nobel Laureates to technicians. Henry DeWolf Smyth
Henry DeWolf Smyth
Henry DeWolf "Harry" Smyth was an American physicist, diplomat, and bureaucrat who played a number of key roles in the early development of nuclear energy. Educated at Princeton University and the University of Cambridge, he was a faculty member in Princeton's Department of Physics from 1924 to...

, who was Chairman of the Princeton Physics department, had once invited Fermi over to do some experiments with the Princeton cyclotron
Cyclotron
In technology, a cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator. In physics, the cyclotron frequency or gyrofrequency is the frequency of a charged particle moving perpendicularly to the direction of a uniform magnetic field, i.e. a magnetic field of constant magnitude and direction...

. Walking into the lab one day, Smyth saw the distinguished scientist helping a graduate student move a table, under another student's directions. Another time, a Du Pont executive made a visit to see him at Columbia. Not finding him either in his lab or his office, the executive was surprised to find the Nobel Laureate in the machine shop, cutting sheets of tin with a big pair of shears.

After the war, Fermi served for a short time on the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission
United States Atomic Energy Commission
The United States Atomic Energy Commission was an agency of the United States government established after World War II by Congress to foster and control the peace time development of atomic science and technology. President Harry S...

, a scientific committee chaired by J. Robert Oppenheimer which advised the commission on nuclear matters and policy. After the detonation of the first Soviet fission bomb in August 1949, he, along with Isidor Rabi, wrote a strongly worded report for the committee which opposed the development of a hydrogen bomb on moral and technical grounds. But Fermi also participated in preliminary work on the hydrogen bomb at Los Alamos as a consultant, and along with Stanislaw Ulam, calculated that the amount of tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

 needed for Edward Teller's
Edward Teller
Edward Teller was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb," even though he did not care for the title. Teller made numerous contributions to nuclear and molecular physics, spectroscopy , and surface physics...

 model of a thermonuclear weapon would be prohibitive, and a fusion reaction
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

 could not be assured to propagate even with this large quantity of tritium.

Fermi was among the scientists who testified on Oppenheimer's behalf at an AEC hearing
Oppenheimer security hearing
The Oppenheimer security hearing was a 1954 inquiry by the United States Atomic Energy Commission into the background, actions and associations of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American scientist who had headed the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb for the United States during World War...

 in 1954. The hearing resulted in denial of Oppenheimer's security clearance.

In his later years, Fermi did important work in particle physics, especially related to pions and muons. He was also known to be an inspiring teacher at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

, and was known for his attention to detail, simplicity, and careful preparation for a lecture. Later, his lecture notes, especially those for quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, nuclear physics
Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those...

, and thermodynamics
Thermodynamics
Thermodynamics is a physical science that studies the effects on material bodies, and on radiation in regions of space, of transfer of heat and of work done on or by the bodies or radiation...

, were transcribed into books which are still in print.

He also mused about a proposition which is now referred to as the "Fermi Paradox
Fermi paradox
The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations....

". This contradiction or proposition is this: that with the billions and billions of star systems in the universe, one would think that intelligent life would have contacted our civilization by now.

Toward the end of his life, Fermi questioned his faith in society at large to make wise choices about nuclear technology. He said:
"Some of you may ask, what is the good of working so hard merely to collect a few facts which will bring no pleasure except to a few long-haired professors who love to collect such things and will be of no use to anybody because only few specialists at best will be able to understand them? In answer to such question[s] I may venture a fairly safe prediction.

History of science and technology has consistently taught us that scientific advances in basic understanding have sooner or later led to technical and industrial applications that have revolutionized our way of life. It seems to me improbable that this effort to get at the structure of matter should be an exception to this rule. What is less certain, and what we all fervently hope, is that man will soon grow sufficiently adult to make good use of the powers that he acquires over nature."


Fermi died at age 53 of stomach cancer in Chicago, Illinois, and was interred at Oak Woods Cemetery
Oak Woods Cemetery
Oak Woods Cemetery was established in 1854; it covers an area of and is located at 1035 E. 67th Street in Chicago. The first burials took place in 1860. Soon after the American Civil War, between four and six thousand Confederate soldiers, prisoners who died at Camp Douglas, were buried here...

. Two of his graduate students who assisted him in working on or near the nuclear pile also died of cancer. Fermi and his team knew that such work carried considerable risk but they considered the outcome so vital that they forged ahead with little regard for their own personal safety.

As Eugene Wigner wrote: "Ten days before Fermi had died he told me, 'I hope it won't take long.' He had reconciled himself perfectly to his fate".

Impact and legacy



Enrico Fermi had been the first to use a neutron to produce the radioactive change of one element to another. On 2 December 1942 he initiated the atomic age
Atomic Age
The Atomic Age, also known as the Atomic Era, is a phrase typically used to delineate the period of history following the detonation of the first nuclear bomb Trinity on July 16, 1945...

 with the first self-sustaining chain reaction
Chain reaction
A chain reaction is a sequence of reactions where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. In a chain reaction, positive feedback leads to a self-amplifying chain of events....

, after which he became known as "father of the atomic bomb". Michael H. Hart
Michael H. Hart
Michael H. Hart is an astrophysicist who has also written three books on history and controversial articles on a variety of subjects. Hart describes himself as a Jeffersonian liberal, while his critics call him a conservative and a racial separatist.-Science:Hart, a graduate of the Bronx High...

 ranked him #76 in his list of the most influential figures in history.
  • The Fermilab
    Fermilab
    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory , located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics...

     particle accelerator and physics lab in Batavia, Illinois
    Batavia, Illinois
    Batavia was founded in 1833, and is the oldest city in Kane County, Illinois, with a small portion in DuPage County. During the Industrial Revolution, Batavia became known as ‘The Windmill City’ for being the largest windmill producer of the time...

    , is named after him.
  • Three nuclear reactor installations have been named after Fermi:
    • Fermi 1 and Fermi 2 nuclear power
      Nuclear power
      Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

       plants in Newport, Michigan
    • Enrico Fermi Nuclear Power Plant
      Enrico Fermi Nuclear Power Plant (Italy)
      Enrico Fermi Nuclear Power Plant was a nuclear power plant at Trino , in north-west Italy....

      , in Italy
    • RA-1 Enrico Fermi
      RA-1 Enrico Fermi
      RA-1 Enrico Fermi is a research reactor in Argentina and the first nuclear reactor to be built in that country. Construction started April 1957, with first criticality 17 January 1958...

      , a research reactor in Argentina
      Argentina
      Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

      .
  • Many schools are also named after him, such as the Enrico Fermi High School
    Enrico Fermi High School
    Enrico Fermi High School is a high school located in Enfield, Connecticut. Enrico Fermi High School was established in 1971 and serves the Enfield community along with the previously-built Enfield High School...

     in Enfield, Connecticut
    Enfield, Connecticut
    Enfield is a town located in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 45,212 at the 2000 census. It sits on the border with Longmeadow, Massachusetts and East Longmeadow, Massachusetts to the north, Somers to the east, East Windsor and Ellington to the south, and the...

    .
  • Particles with half-valued spins are called fermions, as they obey the Fermi–Dirac statistics.
  • Fermi Court in Deep River, Ontario
    Deep River, Ontario
    Deep River is a town in Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada. Located along the Ottawa River, it lies about north-west of Ottawa on the Trans-Canada Highway...

     is named in his honor.
  • In 1952, element 100 on the periodic table of elements was isolated from the debris of a nuclear test
    Ivy Mike
    Ivy Mike was the codename given to the first United States test of a thermonuclear weapon, in which a major part of the explosive yield came from nuclear fusion. It was detonated on November 1, 1952 by the United States at on Enewetak, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, as part of Operation Ivy...

    . In honor of Fermi's contributions to the scientific community, it was named fermium
    Fermium
    Fermium is a synthetic element with the symbol Fm. It is the 100th element in the periodic table and a member of the actinide series. It is the heaviest element that can be formed by neutron bombardment of lighter elements, and hence the last element that can be prepared in macroscopic quantities,...

    .
  • Since the 1950s, the United States Atomic Energy Commission has named its highest honor, the Fermi Award, after him. Recipients of the award include well-known scientists like Otto Hahn
    Otto Hahn
    Otto Hahn FRS was a German chemist and Nobel laureate, a pioneer in the fields of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He is regarded as "the father of nuclear chemistry". Hahn was a courageous opposer of Jewish persecution by the Nazis and after World War II he became a passionate campaigner...

    , J. Robert Oppenheimer, Freeman Dyson
    Freeman Dyson
    Freeman John Dyson FRS is a British-born American theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum field theory, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering. Dyson is a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists...

    , John Wheeler
    John Archibald Wheeler
    John Archibald Wheeler was an American theoretical physicist who was largely responsible for reviving interest in general relativity in the United States after World War II. Wheeler also worked with Niels Bohr in explaining the basic principles behind nuclear fission...

     and Hans Bethe
    Hans Bethe
    Hans Albrecht Bethe was a German-American nuclear physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. A versatile theoretical physicist, Bethe also made important contributions to quantum electrodynamics, nuclear physics, solid-state physics and...

    .
  • In 1976, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame
    National Inventors Hall of Fame
    The National Inventors Hall of Fame is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recognizing, honoring and encouraging invention and creativity through the administration of its programs. The Hall of Fame honors the men and women responsible for the great technological advances that make human,...

    .
  • In 2008, the newly launched Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope was named after him.

See also



  • Fermi acceleration
    Fermi acceleration
    Fermi acceleration , sometimes referred to as diffusive shock acceleration , is the acceleration that charged particles undergo when being repeatedly reflected, usually by a magnetic mirror. This is thought to be the primary mechanism by which particles gain non thermal energies in astrophysical...

  • Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope
  • Fermi hole
    Fermi hole
    The idea of a Fermi hole requires some background in the idea of anti-symmetrized wavefunctions. The Pauli exclusion principle is the "rule" that no more than two electrons can be in the same orbital. The "rule" traces to a deep algebraic property of nature that has nothing whatsoever to do with...

  • Fermi level
    Fermi level
    The Fermi level is a hypothetical level of potential energy for an electron inside a crystalline solid. Occupying such a level would give an electron a potential energy \epsilon equal to its chemical potential \mu as they both appear in the Fermi-Dirac distribution function,which...

  • Fermi linux
    Fermi Linux
    Fermi Linux is the generic name for Linux distributions that are created and used at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory . These releases have gone through different names: Fermi Linux, Fermi Linux LTS, LTS, Scientific Linux Fermi, SLF...

  • Fermi paradox
    Fermi paradox
    The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations....

  • Fermi problem
    Fermi problem
    In science, particularly in physics or engineering education, a Fermi problem, Fermi question, or Fermi estimate is an estimation problem designed to teach dimensional analysis, approximation, and the importance of clearly identifying one's assumptions...

  • Fermi's golden rule
    Fermi's golden rule
    In quantum physics, Fermi's golden rule is a way to calculate the transition rate from one energy eigenstate of a quantum system into a continuum of energy eigenstates, due to a perturbation....

  • Fermion
    Fermion
    In particle physics, a fermion is any particle which obeys the Fermi–Dirac statistics . Fermions contrast with bosons which obey Bose–Einstein statistics....

  • Fermion field
  • Scuola Normale Superiore
  • I ragazzi di via Panisperna
    I ragazzi di via Panisperna
    is an Italian movie by director Gianni Amelio, telling the enthusiasms, fears, joys and disappointments of the life of a well-known group of boys fond of physics and mathematics, who just made history as the Via Panisperna boys.-Plot:The story is inspired by a real life fact and set in the...

     (movie)

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