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Enrico Fermi A Physics 240 Biographical Presentation By Bill Austin.

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1 Enrico Fermi A Physics 240 Biographical Presentation By Bill Austin

2 The Early Years ● Born September 1901 in Rome, Italy. ● Youngest of 3 children. ● Attended public school from age 6. ● Exhibited prodigious math ability, best student in class. ● Enrico and older brother Giulio often built electric motors, mechanical and electrical toys.

3 Education ● Giulio died unexpectedly in 1915 ● Enrico Fermi befriended Enrico Persico; they would later become the first two theoretical physicists in Italy. ● Found a mentor in engineer Adolfo Amidei, instrumental in securing parental permission to study in Pisa. ● Placed first in entrance competition for Scuola Normale Superiore, the famous institute at which Galileo once taught. ●

4 Doctoral Pursuit ● Admitted into physics department in fall of ● Three 19-year old students—Fermi, best friend Franco Rasetti, and Nello Carella—comprised entire graduate group. All were age 19. ● The Great War had precluded forming other graduate classes, laboratories had fallen into disrepair; the three had to become highly resourceful in constructing apparatus and equipment.

5 Prodigious and Prolific Publication: ● First of several scientific papers in 1921: ● "On the dynamics of a rigid system of electrical charges in translational motion;" ● "On the electrostatics of a uniform gravitational field of electromagnetic charges and on the weight of electromagnetic charges;” ● "Concerning a contradiction between electrodynamic and the relativistic theory of electromagnetic mass." ● Publications attracted worldwide interest, translated into German ● Thesis:"A theorem on probability and some of its applications" ● Ph.D. conferred in 1922 (only 21 years old), magna cum laude.

6 Postdoctoral Study ● 1923: Fellowship at University of Gottingen, DE ● 1924: Teaching assistant at University of Rome ● 1924: 3-month fellowship in Leyden, The Netherlands ● 1925: Experimental work at University of Florence (with Franco Rasetti)

7 Family ● Met Laura Capon in 1924, married1928 ● Had two children: Nella in January 1931, and Giulio in February 1936.

8 The Via Panisperna Boys ● Effort by Senator Orso Mario Corbino to create a modern physics institute at the University of Rome La Sapienza. ● Fermi led members Eduardo Amaldi, Oscar D'Agostino (chemist), Ettore Majorana, Bruno Pontecorvo, Franco Rasetti, and Emilio Segre. ● Conducted novel work on neutron bombardment. ● Developed fundamental theory of beta decay ( ) which Nature refused to publish as containing “abstract speculations too remote from physical reality.”

9 The Nobel Prize ● Awarded 1938 for discovery of transuranic elements and induced radioactivity. ● Frisch and Meitner discovered barium among the isotopes and correctly concluded fission had occurred based on work by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman. ● Used trip to Stockholm as pretext to safely flee Italy for the United States.

10 Emigration to the U.S. ● A Fascist anti-Semitic campaign and institution of racial laws made life unsafe for Laura Fermi, who was of Jewish descent. ● Appeared likely that the Nobel monetary award would be seized by the regime. ● Fermi had committed to and planned escape well in advance, securing an invitation to visit Columbia University on an immigrant visa.

11 In America ● Arrived to five offers of professorship, chose Columbia. ● Met Leo Szilard, who in 1933 first conceived idea of extracting energy through atomic chain reaction. ● In 1939, government enthusiasm for research was essentially nil. Einstein was solicited to write President Roosevelt and alert him to the possibility of fission weapons.

12 Manhattan Project ● Fermi had intuited the energy possibilities of the atom back in Pisa when he sometimes expressed mass as a tensor. ● Secured funding to build an atomic pile, but real estate difficulties led to construction of the reactor in a squash court ● Achieved self-sustaining reaction on December 2, 1942; Metallurgical head Arthur Compton reported the results to Washington in a coded message: “The Italian navigator has just landed in the new world.”

13 Los Alamos & The Bomb ● In 1942 Maj. Gen. Leslie R. Groves directed Robert Oppenheimer to assemble the program of research ● Los Alamos chosen for the security and safety of its remoteness. ● Trinity “Gadget” successfully detonated July 16, 1945 began the era of atomic weapons in earnest.

14 After the War ● 1946: Returned to teaching at University of Chicago. ● 1947: Appointed to General Advisory committee of Atomic Energy Commission. ● 1951: Conducted high-energy experiments with new Chicago Cyclotron. ● 1953: Became President of the American Physical Society. ● 1954: Testified in Oppenheimer hearings.

15 An Unfortunate Loss Enrico Fermi died of stomach cancer on November 29, He was only 53 years old. One can only wonder what further contributions he might have made if not for such an untimely death.

16 Characteristics ● Phenomenological Approach. ● Dislike of complicated theories where simple ones would do. ● Famous for “back of envelope calculations” which came to be known as the Fermi Method or Fermi approximations. ● Little need for rigor; could go back and fill in detail if everything looked promising. ● Liked to apply breakthrough methods to novel problems (ex: Fermi-Dirac statistics). ● Deliberate, unhurried work habits. ● Tremendous passion for teaching.

17 A Lasting Legacy ● 14 patents. ● A national award for excellence in the field of energy. ● Nobel Prize awarded to several of his students.

18 A Household Name Physics terms relating to Enrico Fermi: ● Fermium ● Fermi Interaction ● Fermi Contact Interaction ● Fermi-Dirac Statistics ● Fermi (unit of length) ● Fermi Motion ● Fermion ● Fermi Level ● Fermi Energy ● Fermi Gas ● Fermi Point ● Fermi Surface ● Fermi Motion ● Fermi Resonance ● Fermi Constant

19 A Household Name Mathematical terms relating to Enrico Fermi: ● Fermi Liquid Theory ● Fermi Glow ● Fermi Acceleration ● Thomas-Fermi Model ● Thomas-Fermi Screening ● Fermi's Golden Rule ● Fermi Coordinates ● Fermi Problem ● Fermi Paradox ● Fermi Coordinates ● Fermi-Walker Differentiation ● Fermi-Dirac Integral ● Fermi Heap ● Fermi Hole

20 Resources Segre, Emilio (1970). Enrico Fermi, Physicist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Cooper, Dan (1999). Enrico Fermi And the Revolutions of Modern Physics. New York: Oxford University Press. Fermi, Laura (1954). Atoms in the Family: My Life with Enrico Fermi. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press. Goldberger, Marvin L. (1999). Enrico Fermi: The Complete Physicist. Physics in Perspective, 1 (1999) Lan, Boon Leong (2002). Enrico Fermi: a great teacher. European Journal of Physics, 23 (2002) L29-L31.


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