The Legend of Enrico Fermi

The LegendEnrico Fermi was born September 29, 1901 in Rome, Italy. His parents were Alberto Fermi, an administrator in the Italian railroad system, and Ida de Galtis, an elementary school teacher.

Enrico was reading and writing at an early age. At age six, Enrico entered public school and excelled in mathematics. By age ten Enrico was exhibiting a remarkable memory. He began attending a school which emphasized Latin, Greek, French, mathematics and physics. Enrico led his class in scholarships. In his spare time, Enrico studied science, built electric motors and toys.

By the age of twenty two, Enrico had earned his doctorate from the University of Pisa. After graduating from the University, Enrico obtained a fellowship to work under noted physicist Max Born in Goltingen, Germany.

After receiving international acclaim for his paper “On the Quantization of the perfect Monoatomic Gas”, Fermi published a modern day physics book. Also at this time, Fermi was recruiting advanced physics students to work with him and other faculty members.

By the summer of 1930 Enrico was invited to teach theoretical physics at the University of Michigan. Here he lectured on the quantum theory of radiation. A subsequent teaching trip to the United States brought Fermi to lecture at Columbia University.

Enrico Fermi and his wife Laura were very much impressed with the freedoms they had experienced in the United States. Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work with slow neutrons, in December of 1938. Due to the unrest in Europe, on December 24th, Enrico left Italy with his family for the United States.

In the early 1940’s, Fermi taught physics at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. During this time he would also work with a team of scientist developing the atomic bomb. Although most of the work centered on developing a weapon, the research also concentrated on the development of a new source of power.

While Enrico Fermi helped to develop the most powerful weapon of our time, his name is more closely associated with the controlled chain reaction that is now the basis of the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

Enrico Fermi, the immigrant, brought to this nation a new knowledge, a new prestige, an influence in world politics and the basis for a new power source. On November 29, 1954 Enrico Fermi died in Chicago, Illinois of cancer.

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