Person: Fermi, Enrico
Enrico Fermi was an Italian physicist who created the world's first nuclear reactor. He made important contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics and to statistical mechanics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- When he was six years old Enrico began to attend an elementary school which was chosen because it was a secular establishment).
- This, of course, had a deep and lasting affect on Enrico who, already somewhat introverted, became even less outgoing.
- At this time he became friends with Enrico Persico, who was in the same class as school.
- But in these adolescent talks Enrico brought a precision of ideas, a self-assurance, and an originality which continually surprised me.
- Fermi sat the exam on 14 November 1918 and wrote an essay on the given theme of Characteristics of sound.
- In his essay Fermi derived the system of partial differential equations for a vibrating rod, then used Fourier analysis to solve them.
- When the examiner read Fermi's entry he was so amazed that he set up a meeting with him, telling him that it would undoubtedly win the competition and moreover that Fermi would without doubt become a famous scientist.
- In Pisa Fermi was advised by the director of the physics laboratory Luigi Puccianti.
- Perhaps we should clarify this statement, for although Puccianti nominally had this role he acknowledged that there was little that he could teach Fermi, and frequently he asked Fermi to teach him something.
- Soon Fermi was publishing papers, his first Sulla dinamica di un sistema rigido di cariche elettriche in moto traslatorio Ⓣ(On the dynamics of a rigid system of electrical charges in translational motion) being published in 1921.
- Fermi submitted his doctoral thesis Un teorema di calcolo delle probabilità ed alcune sue applicazioni Ⓣ(A theorem on probability and some of its applications) to the Scuola Normale Superiore and was examined on 7 July 1922.
- Fermi, also in a black toga, stood in front of them, and he started talking with cool, deliberate assurance.
- Clearly Fermi's erudition was above their comprehension.
- Fermi received his degree magna cum laude.
- After the award of his doctorate Fermi returned to Rome and began working with the mathematicians there, particularly Castelnuovo, Levi-Civita and Enriques.
- At this point Fermi was trying to maximise his chances of an academic career so he published a large number of papers.
- It is worth noting that both Levi-Civita and Volterra supported Fermi.
- Perhaps it was good that Fermi lost for in 1926 another competition was announced, this time for the chair of theoretical physics at the University of Rome.
- This time, despite being very young for such a position, Fermi was appointed by the committee which recognised the exceptional quality of his scientific work.
- At Rome Fermi began to built up the physics institute, which was surprisingly small when he arrived.
- Certainly he deserved the honour on academic grounds but one should not assume that his appointment by Mussolini meant that Fermi supported fascism.
- The Academy appointment provided Fermi with a substantially additional salary.
- Fermi gave lectures on quantum theory.
- In 1934 Fermi carried out his most important work on the artificial radioactivity produced by neutrons.
- Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938.
- Another important paper, published by Fermi in 1935, was Sulla quantizzazione del gas perfetto monoatomico.
- In this paper he presented Fermi statistics, giving a statistical model of the atom and nucleus.
- Fermi decided to write to universities in the United States looking for a position.
- Amusingly, Fermi had to pass an arithmetic test before being granted a visa for the United States.
- Fermi's work at Columbia University, in collaboration with other members of his team, soon showed possible applications of his research.
- The project was to be carried out at the University of Chicago with various groups, including Fermi's group at Columbia, being brought together there.
- This was not greatly to Fermi's liking for a number of reasons.
- However, the difficulties were overcome and by the summer of 1942 Fermi was in Chicago.
- On 2 December 1942 the team, headed by Fermi, achieved the first controlled release of nuclear energy - it is probably not an understatement to say that a new era had begun.
- In 1944, Fermi became American citizen and in that year he began to take a full part in the Los Alamos project to build a bomb.
- After the war ended Fermi decided that he wanted to return to university life.
- In the summer of 1954 Fermi returned to Italy and gave a series of lectures in the Villa Monastero in Varenna on Lake Como.
- Fermi was buried in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.
Born 29 September 1901, Rome, Italy. Died 28 November 1954, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Italy, Prize Nobel
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive