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Detail of Biography - Enrico Fermi
Name :
Enrico Fermi
Date :
Views :
550
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Birth Date :
29/09/2001
Birth Place :
Rome, Italy
Death Date :
28-Nov-54
Biography - Enrico Fermi
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Enrico Fermi was the youngest of three children of Ida De Gattis and Alberto Fermi. Alberto who began his career as a railroad official, progressed to a senior position in government service. Fermi’s mother was a school teacher.[br /]
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The Fermis came from the rich the most fertile countryside of Italy, around Piacenza in the valley of the Po River. Enrico's grandfather Stefano was the first Fermi to abandon actual tilling of the soil, thus initiating the family's social rise. As a youth, Stefano entered the service of the Duke of Parma as the Duchy of Parma. Italy was then divided into small states, and Parma was one of them. Here, he obtained the position of country secretary. The brass buttons of his uniform bearing the name and emblem of the Duke in relief, is still kept among the family heirlooms.[br /]
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Alberto, Stefano's second son and Enrico's father, was compelled to leave school earlier than he deserved. His compelling circumstances made his find his own means of livelihood. With no formal education, he entered the railway administration. Alberto brought into his work the qualities inherited from his father; steadiness, will power, determination to reach a modest prosperity. Soon, he gained the respect and recognition of his colleagues and reached the position of division head at the time of his retirement, which was usually reserved for person with higher academic qualifications.[br /]
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His work caused him to wander all over Italy for several years after which he settled in Rome. At the age of 41, he married Ida De Gattis, a woman fourteen years his junior, a teacher in the elementary schools. They had three children: Maria born in 1899, Giulio in 1900, and Enrico on September 29, 1901. The three children came so close together that Mrs. Fermi could not care for the second and third babies and were taken care of by a nurse at the country side. Because of delicate health, Enrico was not returned to his family in Rome, until he was two and a half years old. It took some time for little Enrico to adjust to his family, but his mother's love and care brought him around in the family again. Mrs. Fermi's showered into her affection a certain rigidity that made her expect from others as much as she could give. Her children worked hard to maintain the high moral and intellectual standards that she had set and expected of them.[br /]
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All the three siblings were very bright, and their parents did not evaluate their intellects beyond their school marks. From early childhood, Giulio and Enrico had grown so close to each other, had shared their games and filled their leisure hours together, inseparably. The pair turned into wonder boys when just out of childhood. They built electric motors of their own design and constructed and operated them. They also drew plans of airplane engines (all children were fascinated by the new invention, then a novelty) so well that experts were of the opinion that it could not be the handiwork of children. They were indistinguishable in their achievements.
Enrico lacked some of the more likable traits of children. He was small for his age and unattractive. He was untidy, and his mother, when out with him, often made him wash his face at a street fountain. His hair was disheveled and never combed. He was uncommonly shy of grownups - he went into tantrums easily and lacked imagination, or so it seemed. In school he did poorly at writing. Those qualities that were to become assets in his scientific prose - the going straight to the point with no flourishes, the simplicity of style, the avoidance of any word not strictly essential - were held to be symptoms of mental aridity in the child.[br /]
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In 1915, his brother Guilio succumbed to a throat illness. His mother, for a long time was given to protracted crying spells which understandable, as Giulio was her favorite. Enrico too mourned his loss, but in mute sorrow that may have been deeper than hers. His brother had been his sole companion and steady friend. There had been no need for others because the two completed each other to form a unit, as two atoms unite to form a molecule. They had no free valency to hook onto others. Now lonely, but bereft of feelings, he kept his grief to himself. A week after his brother's death he walked alone by the hospital where Giulio had passed away. He wanted to prove to himself that he was capable of overcoming the emotion that the sight of the hospital would arouse in him. Later, he found a way to deal with the lonely and melancholy hours: Study.[br /]
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Fermi had a passion for mathematics and physics, in particular. Browsing through the bookstalls in Rome’s Campo die Fiori, he found two antique volumes of elementary physics, carried them home and read them, sometimes correcting the mathematics. Over the next few days, Fermi spent exclaiming over his discovery of how exciting, how wonderful was the manner in which the book explained the movement of the waves, the motions of the planets and the tides. Later, he told his elder sister Maria that he had not even noticed that they were written in Latin, not their mother tongue.[br /]
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It was not long before Fermi had a companion Enrico Persico (who a decade later became a Professor of Mathematics), on his rendezvous to Campo die Fiori. Fermi and Persico realized that they had more in common than mere first names. Their tastes, scientific aptitude, proclivity to speculation, were all familiar. But they differed in temperament. Yet, their friendship held them together, through the years. They used to visit Campo die Fiori every Wednesday and after acquiring books; used to take turns reading them.[br /]
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As they built up their knowledge of physics, the two friends set sights on applying it to experimental problems. With the rudimentary equipment that they could procure, they made some accurate enough measurements; that of the magnetic field of the earth, for instance. They also tried to explain a certain natural phenomena.[br /]
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Enrico often met his father at the office and used to walk back home with him. His father's friend, Ingegner Amidei, often used to accompany them. Amidei often used to give Enrico scientific problems to solve. Initially, he would give him simple problems, but when Enrico effortlessly solved them, he started giving him scientific problems which he had problems at solving. Enrico as usual, easily went on finding solutions to the stream of easy and later difficult problems provided by Amidei. Amidei started to admire the boy's intellect and lent him the few books he owned, a logical way to build a sound foundation of mathematical principles and basic knowledge of physics. Fermi, on his side, supplemented the books borrowed from Amidei with those he purchased in a more random manner at Campo Dei Fiori.[br /]
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Thus, the idea of becoming a physicist, nursed and tended with care by Amidei, germinated in Enrico.[br /]
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When in high school, the student prodigy decided to become a professor. At 17, Fermi was awarded a scholarship at the Reale Scuola Normale Superior, associated with the University of Pisa. His precocity led him often to teach his teachers. There, he earned his doctorate at 21 with a research thesis on x- rays. After a short visit to Rome, Fermi left for Germany on the Italian Ministry of Public Instruction fellowship to study at the University of Gottingen, under the physicist Max Born. Fermi then returned to teach mathematics at the University of Florence. In July 1922, his paper on behavior of a perfect, hypothetical gas impressed the physics department of the University of Rome, which invited him to become a professor of theoretical physics.[br /]
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On July 19, 1928, Fermi married Laura Capon, daughter of an admiral in the Italian Navy. The couple had two children, Nella (1931) and Giulio (named after Fermi's brother) (1936). Fermi left Italy in 1938 to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics, for Sweden. He and his wife then moved to the United States to escape Italy’s increasing fascism and anti-Semitism. In 1944, after having satisfied the residence requirements, the US became Fermis’ permanent residence. In 1946, Fermi became Distinguished Service Professor for Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago and also received the Congressional Medal of Merit.[br /]
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He argued against US development of the hydrogen bomb when the project was debated, in 1949. In 1950, he was elected foreign member of the Royal Society of London. Fermi died an untimely death of stomach cancer in Chicago in 1954. Fermi is recognized as one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. He always worked at the forefront of knowledge and loved the excitement of being involved in breakthroughs in physics. [br /]
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While announcing the plan to establish the Fermilab in honor of Fermi in 1969, Glenn T. Seaborg, the then chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission remarked, "It is particularly fitting that we honor Dr. Fermi in this manner, for in doing so we further acknowledge his many contributions to the progress of nuclear science, particularly his work on nuclear processes."[br /]
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In Fermi, the world witnessed a man whose quest for knowledge was insatiable. A huge void was left unfulfilled in the world of science, in the loss of Enrico Fermi.[br /]
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On September 29, 1901, the world was blessed with a prodigy, who by his unparalleled works carved a niche for himself in the realm of Physics. Enrico Fermi, a supremely self-assured Italian-American was born in Rome, Italy, in the Fermi family. Fermi, one of the chief architects of the Nuclear Age, who developed Mathematical Statistics named Fermi-Dirac Statistics, and discovered neutron induced radioactivity and directed the first controlled chain reaction involving nuclear fission. In 1938, the great scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to this field. A coded message told the government of his success : "The Italian navigator has just landed in the New World."[br /]
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Fermi’s sheer commitment to Physics was instrumental in unraveling quite a few mysteries of science. His work exemplifies that man, who is but a mortal being, can immortalize himself through his works.[br /]
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[b]September 29, 1901[/b] Enrico Fermi was born in Rome, Italy.[br /]
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[b]1915[/b] His brother Giulio, died.[br /]
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[b]1918-1922[/b] He studied at the University of Pisa where he earned his doctorate and later studied at the Universities of Leyden and Gottingen.[br /]
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[b]1926[/b] He was a lecturer at the University of Florence, where he developed a new form of statistical mechanics i.e. Fermi–Dirac statistics.[br /]
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[b]1926[/b] He became professor at the University of Rome and taught mathematics.[br /]
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[b]1928[/b] He married Laura Capon.[br /]
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[b]1934[/b] He perfected his theory of beta ray emission in radioactivity.[br /]
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[b]1934[/b] He discovered slow neutrons.[br /]
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[b]1938[/b] He was awarded the Noble Prize in Physics for his developments in harnessing nuclear power.[br /]
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[b]1939[/b] The Fermis immigrated to the US to escape Italy’s increasing fascism and anti-semitism.[br /]
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[b]1939[/b] Enrico Fermi and Leo Syilard designed the first nuclear reactor.[br /]
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[b]1942[/b] Fermi initiated the process of controlled release of nuclear energy.[br /]
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[b]1944[/b] Fermi attended the detonation of the first bomb in Los Alamos.[br /]
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[b]1944[/b] The Fermis had become American citizens after having satisfied the residence requirements.[br /]
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[b]1945[/b] The plutonium based atomic bomb was invented.[br /]
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[b]1949[/b] Fermi argued against the development of the hydrogen bomb when the project became controversial.[br /]
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[b]1954[/b] Fermi received the Atomic Energy Commission Award.[br /]
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[b]November 28, 1954[/b] Fermi died prematurely of stomach cancer.[br /]
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[b]1955[/b] The element Fermium was named in honor of Fermi.[br /]
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Fermi’s accomplishments were in both theoretical and experimental physics, a unique feat in an age when scientific endeavors tended to specialize on one aspect or the other. Enrico Fermi succeeded in creating the world’s first controlled nuclear chain reaction.
Enrico Fermi’s first important achievement in nuclear physics was providing a mathematical means for describing the behavior of certain types of sub-atomic particles – a process which came to be known as Fermi–Dirac statistical mechanics. Next, Fermi successfully explained beta-decay by incorporating into the process the production of a new particle, which he named the neutrino. However, Fermi is best known for his experimental work.
In 1932, Sir James Chadwick discovered the existence of an electrically neutral particle called the neutron, at Cambridge University. In 1934, Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie were the first to produce artificial radioactivity by bombarding elements with alpha particles, which are emitted as positively charged helium nuclei from polonium. Impressed by this work, Fermi conceived the idea of inducing artificial radioactivity by another method using neutrons obtained from radioactive beryllium, but reducing their speed by passing them through paraffin, he found the slow neutrons were especially effective in producing emission of radioactive particles. He successfully used this method on a series of elements. When he used uranium (atomic weight 92) as the target of slow-neutron bombardment, he obtained puzzling radioactive substances that could not be identified.
His collaborators were inclined to believe that he had actually made a new, ‘transuranic’ element of atomic number 93, i.e. during bombardment, the nucleus of uranium had captured a neutron thus increasing its atomic weight. Fermi did not make this claim, for he was not certain regarding what had occurred. He was unaware that he was on the threshold of a world-shaking discovery. Fermi modestly observed years later, "We did not have enough imagination to think that a different process of disintegration might occur in uranium than in any other element. Moreover, we did not know enough chemistry to separate the products from one another." In 1938, Fermi won the Nobel Prize for his work with neutrons and radioactivity. The Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Fermi for his work on the artificial radioactivity produced by neutrons, and for nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons.
Meanwhile in 1938, three German scientists had repeated some of Fermi’s early experiments. After bombarding uranium with slow neutrons, Otto Hahn, Lisc Meitner and Frity Strassman made a careful chemical analysis of the products formed. In January 1939, they reported that the uranium atom had been split into several parts. Meitner, a mathematical physicist, slipped secretly out of Germany to Stockholm, where together with Otto Frisch, she explained this new phenomenon as a splitting of the nucleus of the uranium atom into barium, krypton, and smaller amounts of other disintegration products. They sent a letter to the science journal – Nature.
Meitner realized that this nuclear fission was accompanied by the release of enormous amounts of energy by the conversion of some of the mass of uranium into energy, in accordance to Einstein’s mass energy equation. According to this equation, energy (E) is equal to the product of mass (m) times the speed of light squared (c2), commonly written E = mc2.
Fermi, informed of this development soon after arriving in New York, saw its implications and rushed to greet Niels Bohr on his arrival. The Hahn-Meitner-Strassman experiment was repeated at Columbia University, where Bohr suggested the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction. It was agreed that the uranium–235 isotope, differing in atomic weight from other forms of uranium, would be the most effective atom for such a chain reaction.
Fermi, Leo Syilard and Eugene Wigner saw the threat to world peace if German Dictator Hitler’s scientists would apply the principle of the nuclear chain reaction to the production of an atomic bomb. They wrote a letter, which was signed by Einstein on October 11, 1939. Einstein delivered the letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, alerting him regarding this danger. Roosevelt acted on their warning, and ultimately the Manhattan Project for the production of the first atomic bomb was organized in 1942. Fermi was assigned the task of producing a controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. He designed the necessary apparatus, which he called an atomic pile. The project was code named Manhattan Project.
At the University of Chicago, the Manhattan Project was conducted, culminating in the assembly of the first full-scale pile, CP-1. Built up in layers inside wooden framing – a flattened graphite ellipsoid 25 ft. wide and 20 ft. high weighed nearly 100 tons. As the experiment proceeded, Fermi was quite calm. He was confident of the estimates he had charted with his pocket slide rule. With the full withdrawal of the control rods the pile went critical at mid-afternoon . Fermi had proved the science of a chain reaction in uranium. From then on, building a bomb was mere engineering.
In 1946, Fermi became the Distinguished Service Professor for Nuclear studies at the University of Chicago and also received the Congressional Medal of Merit. At the metallurgical laboratory of the University of Chicago, Fermi continued his studies of the basic properties of nuclear particles with particular emphasis on mesons, which is the quantified form of force that holds the nucleus together. Fermi was also a consultant in the construction of the synchrocyclotron, a large particle accelerator at the University of Chicago. In 1950, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Society of London. Enrico Fermi died on November 28, 1954 in Chicago. Element number 100 [Fermium] was named after him and the Enrico Fermi Award was instituted in his honor. It is presented every year to the person who has contributed the most to the use, development and/or control of atomic energy.
• Whatever nature has in store for mankind, unpleasant as it may be, men must accept, for ignorance is never better than knowledge.[br /]
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• Experimental confirmation of a prediction is merely a measurement. An experiment disproving a prediction is a discovery.[br /]
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• If I could remember the names of all these particles, I’d be a botanist.[br /]
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• I cannot think of a single one, not even intelligence -
when asked what characteristics physics Nobelists had in common.[br /]
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• God for this even inscrutable ends, made everyone blind to the phenomenon of atomic fission -[br /]

[i]a comment by an assistant of Enrico Fermi.[/i][br /]
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