Enrico Fermi, a very significant contributor to the field of physics, was the first scientist to achieve a fully controlled nuclear reaction. His experiments led to the creation and use of the atomic bomb as well the creation of nuclear power.
1. Born in Rome
Fermi was born in Rome, Italy in 1901. He received his formal education at the University of Pisa and some other learning centers in Europe. He became a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Rome in 1926 and started to develop a new form of statistics to explain the behavior of electrons.
2. Immigrating to The United States
As his wife was Jewish and he didn’t want to endure the harsh political situation in Italy with fascism before and during World War II, Fermi decided to immigrate to the United States with his family.
3. Professor of Physics
After moving to the U.S., Fermi became a professor of physics and the director of the Institute of Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago. He was very well aware at this point of the significance of his theoretical studies and was very confident in his abilities in the field.
4. Nobel Prize in Physics
Fermi was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics in 1938 for his studies on the decay of particles. His theory of beta decay and artificial radioactivity was very significant and he knew that he was going to make an important breakthrough. He investigated artificial radioactivity by bombarding elements with neutrons.
5. Enrico Fermi Award
Fermi was very popular as a professor and students would follow him all over the world just to study under him. They came from all over the world and followed him to Columbia University in New York and the University of Chicago just as they had done when he was teaching in Rome. The University of Chicago still gives out an award each year, called the Enrico Fermi Award, in honor of Fermi’s memory, to the student who contributes the most to the development or use of atomic energy.
6. Architect of The Nuclear Age
Fermi’s research on the atom led to the ability to split the atom and to create the atomic bomb and to harness the heat of the energy that is produced by this process into nuclear energy. Many people refer to Fermi as the architect of the nuclear age.
7. The Death of His Brother
Fermi wasn’t really interested in physics or science until after his brother died during a minor surgery, at the age of 14. The death of his brother affected him very deeply, when he tried to escape from reality, he came across a few books on physics while he was stewing about his brother’s untimely death.
8. Discovering Fission
Fermi had accidentally split a nucleus during his earlier research but was still looking for a way to harness the energy of the reaction. Credit for splitting an atom, also known as fission, was given to Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann. What Hahn and Strassman didn’t realize was that the neutrons could be used as projectiles to split the atom of a nucleus and cause a chain reaction. A tremendous amount of energy was released each time an atom was split and Fermi discovered that the chain reaction could be controlled.
9. The Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a very celebrated an infamous initiative that led to the creation and use of the atomic bomb to end World War II. Fermi worked actively on the Manhattan Project and was very diligent in his studies.
10. Contribution to Modern Physics
After World War II, Fermi believed that the human toll from the nuclear bombs was far too large and that they shouldn’t be used. He argued against the development of the hydrogen bomb in 1949, but it was built anyway in spite of his protests. He made a very significant contribution to modern physics even though many people fault him for his research.