Enrico Fermi was born 110 years ago

Enrico Fermi in the '40s
Enrico Fermi in the ’40s

Enrico Fermi was born on September 29, 1901 in Rome, Italy.

Enrico Fermi did his college studies at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa and in 1921, while still a student, he already started publishing his first works on physics. For his thesis on images of X-ray diffraction Fermi built the X-ray tubes with two other students.

After graduating, Enrico Fermi spent a semester at Göttingen and a few months in Leiden. In 1924 he became professor at the University of Florence, where he also started some research with his friend and colleague Franco Rasetti.

In the fall of 1926 Enrico Fermi won the competition to get the first professorship of theoretical physics in Italy in Rome. In the following years a group was formed which became known as the Via Panisperna boys, named after the road where the university had its laboratories.

In the ’30s Enrico Fermi carried out his work on beta decay leading to the discovery of the force that is now called the weak interaction and gave a name to the neutrino. Later, Fermi and his group started experimenting on nuclear fission.

In 1938 Enrico Fermi received the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on radioactive elements.

For Italy those were the dark years of fascism and after receiving the Nobel Prize instead of returning to his homeland Enrico Fermi left for the U.S.A. with his family. Initially, Fermi worked at Columbia University, where he carried out further experiments on nuclear fission, helping to build the first nuclear reactor.

After the outbreak of World War II, the Manhattan Project was created and Enrico Fermi became part of it. In 1944 Fermi also became an American citizen.

After the war Enrico Fermi continued his studies inventing the FERMIAC, an analog computer he needed for his research on neutron transport. In the last years of his life Fermi was a professor at the University of Chicago.

In 1950 Enrico Fermi asked the question that became known as the “Fermi Paradox” asking why, if there are advanced extraterrestrial civilizations, we have found no evidence of them in terms of radio signals or starships. The question was asked in a conversation with some colleagues started commenting on a UFO sighting. It seems that Fermi exclaimed: “Where is everybody?” referring to the estimates of possible advanced civilization existing in the cosmos.

Enrico Fermi died in Chicago on November 28, 1954 from a stomach cancer caused by exposure to radiation. Fermi was an extraordinarily brilliant physicist, excellent in theoretical work but also able to find solutions to practical problems during his experimental work.

All over the world not only nuclear power plants were named after Enrico Fermi but also schools, a chemical element, a measurement unit, a crater on the Moon, an asteroid, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and many other things related to science. This clearly shows the legacy of this extraordinary scientist.

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