Enrico Fermi

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Fermi, Enrico

(ĕnrē`kō fĕr`mē), 1901–54, American physicist, b. Italy. He studied at Pisa, Göttingen, and Leiden, and taught physics at the universities of Florence and Rome. He contributed to the early theory of beta decay and the neutrino and to quantum statistics. For his experiments with neutrons he was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics. Fermi's wife, Laura, was Jewish, and the family did not return to Fascist Italy after the journey to Stockholm to receive the Nobel award, but continued on to the United States. Fermi was professor of physics at Columbia (1939–45) and at the Univ. of Chicago (1946–54). He created the first self-sustaining chain reaction in uranium at Chicago in 1942 and worked on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. Later he contributed to the development of the hydrogen bomb and served on the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, which named him to receive its first special award ($25,000) shortly before his death. Fermi was outstanding as an experimenter, theorist, and teacher. He wrote Elementary Particles (1951). In 1954 the chemical element fermiumfermium
[for Enrico Fermi], artificially produced radioactive chemical element; symbol Fm; at. no. 100; mass no. of most stable isotope 257; m.p. 1,527°C;; b.p. and sp. gr. unknown; valence +2, +3. Fermium is a member of Group 3 of the periodic table.
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 of atomic number 100 was named for him. Publication of his Collected Papers (ed. by Edoardo Amaldi et al.) was begun in 1962.


See L. Fermi, Atoms in the Family (1954, repr. 1988); biographies by E. Segrè (1970), G. Segrè and B. Hoerlin (2016), and D. N. Schwartz (2017).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fermi, Enrico


Born Sept. 29, 1901, in Rome; died Nov. 28, 1954, in Chicago. Italian physicist.

Fermi, who made a substantial contribution to the development of contemporary theoretical and experimental physics, graduated from the University of Pisa in 1922 and subsequently studied in Germany and the Netherlands. From 1926 to 1938 he was a professor at the University of Rome, where he made an important contribution to the formation of the Italian school of contemporary physics. He emigrated from Fascist Italy in 1938. From 1939 to 1945, he was a professor at Columbia University and directed research in the USA in the use of nuclear energy. He became a professor at the University of Chicago in 1946.

Fermi was instrumental in the development of the principles of quantum physics. In 1925 he developed the statistics of particles that obey the Pauli exclusion principle (see). In 1934 he constructed a quantitative theory of 0-decay based on W. Pauli’s hypothesis that (3-particles are emitted simultaneously with neutrinos. From 1934 to 1938, Fermi, together with his colleagues, studied the properties of neutrons and laid the foundations of neutron physics. He was the first to observe induced radioactivity, which is caused by neutron bombardment of a number of elements, including uranium. He discovered the phenomenon of neutron moderation and developed the theory of the phenomenon. For this discovery he received a Nobel prize in 1938. In December 1942, Fermi became the first to achieve a nuclear chain reaction, in the world’s first nuclear reactor, which was constructed by Fermi and used graphite as the neutron moderator and uranium as fuel.

In the last years of his life, Fermi performed research in high-energy physics. He initiated the experimental investigation of interactions between charged pions of various energies and hydrogen and obtained a number of fundamental results. Fermi also carried out theoretical research in high-energy physics, dealing with such topics as the statistical theory of multiple meson production in collisions between two nucleons and the theory of the origin of cosmic rays.


“Zur Quantelung des idealen einatomigen Gases.” Zeitschrift für Physik, 1926, vol. 36, issue 11/12.
“Artificial Radioactivity Produced by Neutron Bombardment.” Proceedings of the Royal Society, series A, 1934, vol. 146, no. 857.
“Artificial Radioactivity Produced by Neutron Bombardment.” Proceedings of the Royal Society, series A, 1935, vol. 149, no. 868. (With others.)
“On the Absorption and the Diffusion of Slow Neutrons.” Physical Review, series 2, 1936, vol. 50, no. 10. (With E. Amaldi.)
“Tentativo di una teoria dei raggi β.” Nuovo Cimento, 1934, vol. 11, no. 1.
In Russian translation:
Iadernaia fizika. Moscow, 1951.
Lektsii po atomnoi fizike. Moscow, 1952.
Elementarnye chastitsy, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1953.
Molekuly i kristally. Moscow, 1947.
“Elementarnaia teoriia kotlov s tsepnymi iadernymi reaktsiiami.” Uspekhi fizicheskikh nauk, 1947, vol. 32, fasc. 1, pp. 54–65.
Lektsii o π-mezonakh i nuklonakh. Moscow, 1956.
Nauchnye trudy, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1971–72.
Termodinamika, 2nd ed. Kharkov, 1973.


Pontecorvo, B. “Enriko Fermi.” Uspekhi fizicheskikh nauk, 1955, vol. 57, fasc. 3.
Fermi, L. Atomy u nas doma. Moscow, 1958. Translated from English.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fermi, Enrico

(1901–54) physicist; born in Rome, Italy. His precocity in physics and mathematics was encouraged by a family friend throughout his education. While a lecturer at the University of Florence (1924–27), he developed a new form of statistical mechanics to explain the theoretical behavior of atomic particles (1926). At the University of Rome, he and his colleagues split the nuclei of uranium atoms by bombarding them with neutrons, thus producing artificial radioactive substances. For this breakthrough, Fermi received the 1938 Nobel Prize in physics. Fearing for his Jewish wife because of Mussolini's anti-Semitic legislation, Fermi went directly from the prize presentation in Stockholm to Columbia University, where he became a professor (1939–42). His suggestion to the U.S. Naval Department to develop weapons utilizing atomic chain reactions led to his move to the University of Chicago (1942–54), where he constructed the first American nuclear reactor. On December 2, 1942, he initiated the atomic age with the first self-sustaining chain reaction, after which he became known as "father of the atomic bomb." The element fermium is named for him.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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of Torino), the June 2007 course "Strangeness and Spin in Fundamental Physics" at the "Enrico Fermi" International School of Physics (sponsored by the Societa Italiana di Fisica) dealt with recent discoveries concerning the quantum numbers of strangeness and spin, which both relate to basic properties of the fundamental quantum field theories describing strong and electro-weak interactions and their phenomenological applications and which, in instances like the partonic spin structure of the proton, are sometimes deeply correlated.
In a 1951 letter, Feynman warned Enrico Fermi, "Don't believe any calculation in meson theory which uses a Feynman diagram!"
Filled with anecdotal information, as well as full-page, captioned, black-and-white photography, the newest additions to this very highly recommended science biography series include Linus Pauling And The Chemical Bond; Willem Einthoven; Edwin Hubble And The Expanding Universe; Henry Ford And The Assembly Line; Enrico Fermi And The Nuclear Reactor; Otto Hahn And The Story Of Nuclear Fission; Charles Richter And The Story Of The Richter Scale; Philo T.
Without a stitch of official documentation, Sudoplatov boldly states that Oppenheimer, who built the American A-bomb, and his colleagues Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard knowingly allowed nuclear secrets to pass from their highly sensitive U.S.
They were eventually named, respectively, einsteinium and fermium in honor of Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, who had died in the months preceding laboratory study of the elements.
International School of Physics "Enrico Fermi" (2011: Varenna, Italy).
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He taught nine Nobel prize winners, including Werner Heisenberg, Enrico Fermi, Otto Stern, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, and Maria Goeppert-Mayer.
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The International School of Physics "Enrico Fermi" of the Italian Physical Society held a summer school on ultracold Fermi gases in June of 2006.
That was the first glimpse of a new state of matter--a kind of ultrafrigid vapor--with the ponderous label "strongly interacting, degenerate Fermi gas." Named after the Italian-born physicist Enrico Fermi, these aggregations of particles can behave, according to quantum mechanics, as if they're a single entity.