1901 / 1954
Rome, Italy; Chicago, United States of America
The Italian physicist Enrico Fermi was born on September 29, 1901 in Rome, Italy, as the son of Alberto Fermi (Chief Inspector of the Ministry of Communications). Considered "the architect of the nuclear age," Fermi created the first ever nuclear reactor and is to this day considered one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century, having taken part in the Manhattan project and having made fundamental contributions to the development of nuclear and particle physics, as well as statistical mechanics and quantum theory.
He graduated in physics at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, in 1922. The year before, he hadhis first scientific works in the Italian journal Nuovo Cimento. Between 1923 and 1924, he is at the University of Gottingern, in Germany, where he met Einstein.
In 1926, Fermi was appointed professor at the University of La Sapienza in Rome, where he became chair of theoretical physics, initiating a fruitful collaboration with some notable students, such as Edoardo Amaldi, Bruno Pontecorvo, Ettore Majorana and Emilio Segrè (the so-called "Via Panisperna Boys").
In 1928, Fermi married a science student of Jewish origin, Laura Capon.
While in Rome, Fermi and his team made very important contributions to practical and theoretical aspects of physics, attracting students and visiting scholars from all over the world and enhancing the prestige of the Department.
In 1938, Fermi received the Nobel Prize, for his "demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons." That same year, following the promulgation of the racial laws, he left Italy and moved to New York. When he arrived in the United States , he continued his work with neutrons. He was appointed Professor of Physis at Columbia University in New York in 1939, until 1942.
In 1944, Oppenheimer persuaded Fermi to join the "Project Y" at Los Alamos, New Mexico, determining Fermi's participation in the creation of the Atomic Bomb.
In 1944 Fermi also became an American citizen.
At the end of the war, in 1946, he accepted a professorship at the Institute for Nuclear Studies of the University of Chicago.
In the following years, he served under Oppenheimer on the General Advisory Committee, which advised the US Atomic Energy Commission on nuclear matters.
He held the position at the University of Chicago until his death from stomach cancer on November 28th, 1954.
Battimelli, Giovanni e Michelangelo De Maria (eds). Da via Panisperna all'America. I fisici italiani e la seconda guerra mondiale. Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1997.
Cooper, Dan. Enrico Fermi and the Revolutions in Modern Physics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Segrè, Gino and Bettina Hoerlin. Il Papa della fisica. Enrico Fermi e la nascita dell'era atomica. Milano: Raffaello Cortina Editore, 2017.
“Enrico Fermi.” Atomic Heritage Foundation, September 29, 1901. https://www.atomicheritage.org/profile/enrico-fermi.
“The Nobel Prize in Physics 1938.” NobelPrize.org. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1938/fermi/biographical/.