Enrico Fermi biography

Enrico Fermi (September 29, 1901 – November 28, 1954).


Scientist, theoretical and experimental physicist, of Italian origin, recognized for its great contributions to nuclear and particle physics, where its invention of the nuclear stack and the development of the first nuclear reactor stand out. He also made great contributions to quantum theory as well as statistical mechanics.

He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938 for his scientific work in the field of induced radioactivity. He is listed as one of the most important and influential scientists of the 20th century.

Early life

Enrico Fermi was born on 29 September 1901 in Rome, Italy, one of two children of Alberto Fermi and his wife Ida Gattis. His father served as Inspector General of the Ministry of Communications.

His mother was a schoolteacher. From an early age he manifested a great intelligence and capacity for study, especially in the area of Mathematics and Physics.

His passion for this last science was born at the age of fourteen after reading an ancient text from 1840, entitled Elementorun physucae mathematicae. Since then, he deepened his studies, demonstrating great capacity to solve theoretical problems.

In 1918, he obtained a scholarship at the Scuola Nomale Superior in Pisa, where he had the opportunity to be a student of the renowned Professor Puccianti. Four years later, in 1922, he obtained his PhD in Physics.

Contributions in Statistical Mechanics

He then devoted himself to teaching, teaching at the University of Florence, as well as at the University of Rome. In 1923 he received a scholarship from the Italian Government, receiving the opportunity to move to Gottingen, where he studied and worked for a few months with Professor Max Born.

A year later, he also won a Rockefeller scholarship, which allowed him to move to Leyden, where he had the opportunity to continue his studies with P. Ehrenfest. A few months later he returned to Rome, where he served between 1924 and 1926 as Professor of Mathematics and Mechanics at the University of Florence.

During 1926, his studies led him to make one of his great contributions in the field of statistical mechanics, by achieving the laws of statistics, now known as Fermi’s statistics, which dominates fermion particles, whose characteristic the main is to be tied to the principle of exclusion of Pauli, as opposed to the Bosons, dominated by the Bose-Einstein statistic.

A year later, in 1927, he was appointed Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Rome, where he remained until 1938.

Neutron bombardment

As for her personal life, in 1928, she married a lady named Laura Capon, with whom she had two children. A year later, in 1929, he was appointed as one of the first thirty members of the Royal Academy of Italy.

Parallel to his duties at the University of Rome, from 1930, Fermi traveled constantly to the United States, where he taught courses at the universities of Michigan, Columbia, Chicago and Stanford, and also lectured during his stays in this country American.

At this time he focused his studies on electrodynamic problems and spectroscopic phenomena, at some point taking an interest in electrons external to the atomic nucleus. In 1934, he managed to demonstrate that radiation can occur in almost any element that is subjected to neutron bombardment.

His work was crucial to the subsequent discovery of slow neutrons, a find that paved the way for nuclear fission.

Together with his team of scientists he managed to bombard with neutrons sixty elements of the periodic table, getting isotopes of about forty elements, as well as the conversion of uranium to neptunio, element not existing in nature. Fermi then became the scientist of the time with more knowledge in the field of neutrons.

In 1938, he traveled to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, which was awarded:

“for their demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation processes and for their findings on nuclear reactions due to slow neutrons”.

However, Fermi did not return to Italy, departing from Stockholm directly to the United States, where he settled with his family in New York, in order to escape the regime of Benito Mussolini. Upon his arrival, he was appointed as a professor at Columbia University.

Life in the United States and Manhattan Project

In 1942, he was the director of the team that built the first nuclear battery. Later that year, at the University of Chicago, he achieved the first controlled chain nuclear reaction. That same year, he was awarded the Hughes Medal, awarded by the Royal Society.

During World War II, he was one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, subsequently opposing the use of the hydrogen bomb.

In 1944 he finally became an American citizen. After the war, in 1946, he assumed the position of Professor of Physics and Director of the Institute of Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, which is now named the Enrico Fermi Institute, in his honor.

Latest years and recognitions

His latest research was aimed at elucidating the mysterious origin and nature of cosmic rays. He died on November 28, 1954, in Chicago, United States. During his lifetime he wrote numerous scientific articles, which were edited by Professor E. Segro, in 1959, under the title Collected Papers.

He was a renowned teacher and lecturer. It also belonged to several science academies. Today, the Fermio element, the Enrico Fermi Presidential Prize, the Fermilab (Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory), the Femions and the Fermi-Dirac Statistics are named after him.

Image source: atomicheritage.org

Enrico Fermi biography
Source: Education  
July 31, 2019


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