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Enrico Fermi

Fermi, Enrico (ĕnrēˈkō fĕrˈmē) [key], 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 Univ. (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 fermium 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); biography by E. Segrè (1970).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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