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Thursday, February 25, 2021
Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi was born in Rome on September 29, 1901. In 1918, he won a fellowship of the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa. He spent four years at the University of Pisa, gaining his doctor's degree in physics in 1922 with Professor Puccianti. In 1923, he was awarded a scholarship from the Italian Government and spent some months with Professor Max Born in Göttingen. With a Rockefeller Fellowship, in 1924, he moved to Leyden to work with P. Ehrenfest, and later that same year he returned to Italy to occupy for two years (1924-1926) the post of Lecturer in

Mathematical Physics and Mechanics at the University of Florence.

In 1926, Fermi discovered the statistical laws, nowadays known as the "Fermi statistics". In 1927, Fermi was elected Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Rome. In 1934, he evolved the ß-decay theory, coalescing previous work on radiation theory. Following the discovery by Curie and Joliot of artificial radioactivity (1934), he demonstrated that nuclear transformation occurs in almost every element subjected to neutron bombardment. This work resulted in the discovery of slow neutrons that same year, leading to the discovery of nuclear fission and the production of elements lying beyond what was until then the Periodic Table. In 1938, Fermi was without doubt the greatest expert on neutrons, and he continued his work on this topic on his arrival in the United States, where he was soon appointed Professor of Physics at Columbia University, N.Y. (1939-I942).

Upon the discovery of fission, by Hahn and Strassmann early in 1939, he immediately saw the possibility of emission of secondary neutrons and of a chain reaction. During the last years of his life, Fermi occupied himself with the problem of the mysterious origin of cosmic rays, thereby developing a theory according to which a universal magnetic field - acting as a giant accelerator - would account for the fantastic energies present in the cosmic ray particles.

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. Fermi was a member of several academies and learned societies in Italy and abroad.

He died in Chicago on November 28, 1954.

(From Nobel Lectures, Physics 1922-1941, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1965)

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