Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi

Rome, Città Metropolitana di Roma Capitale, Lazio, Italy
Death 28 Nov 1954 (aged 53)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Burial Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Plot V-145
Memorial ID 331 · View Source
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Physicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938. He was the first to split the atom, designed the first atomic piles, and produced the first sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Born in Rome, Italy in 1901, he was the oldest son of Alberto Fermi, Chief Inspector for the Ministry of Communications, and Ida de Gattis. While attending the local grammar school, his early aptitude for math and physics was quickly recognized and encouraged. Fermi studied at the University of Rome, and received a doctor's degree in physics from the University of Pisa in 1922. His entrance exam for the University of Pisa required an essay, for which 17 year old Fermi submitted the derivation and solution of the Fourier analysis of partial differential equations for waves on a string; the evaluator immediately marked the essay as fit for a thesis for a doctoral degree award. After winning grants to study physics for the next two years, he became a Professor of Mathematical Physics and Mechanics at the University of Florence in 1924. Two years later, he became a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Rome, where he became interested in the structure of the atom, and began to devise experiments to help him understand atomic structure. In 1928, he married Laura Capon; they would have a son, Giulio, and a daughter, Nella. For recreation, he enjoyed walking, mountaineering and winter sports. In 1934, he began to bombard various elements with neutrons, producing radioactive atoms. In these experiments he initially thought he had discovered elements beyond uranium, but later discovered he had actually split the atom. When scientists Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch repeated his experiments and showed that he had actually split an atom, creating the process of nuclear fission (at the time, nuclear fission had been considered theoretically impossible). Fermi's research on nuclear reactions won him the 1938 Nobel Prize in physics. After receiving his Nobel Prize in Stockholm, Fermi and his family immigrated to the United States in 1938 because of his dislike of Italian fascism, and in part due to the anti-Jewish policies adopted by Mussolini government (Fermi's wife, Laura, was Jewish). Upon his arrival in the US, he became a professor of physics at Columbia University. In 1942, he moved to Chicago, where he became a professor of physics at the University of Chicago, and where he created the first self sustained nuclear chain reaction on December 2, 1942, underneath the University of Chicago's stadium, Stagg Field. This successful experiment paved the way for both nuclear weapons and nuclear electrical plants. Very quickly, he was asked to join the Manhattan Project, to develop the first atomic bomb, and in 1944, saw the startup of the world's first nuclear reactor in Hanford, Washington (the reactor was needed to produce the plutonium for the first atomic bombs). In 1943, he won the Hughes Medal from the Royal Society, the oldest scientific society in Great Britain. In 1944, he became an American citizen, and at the end of the war, he returned to the University of Chicago, becoming a Professor of Nuclear Studies, holding this position until his death in 1954 from stomach cancer. During the last years of his life, he studied the origin of cosmic rays, developing the theory of a universal magnetic field that acted as a giant accelerator, which in turn gave enormous energy to cosmic rays. Fermi was a member of several academic academies and societies in both Italy and the US, and in 1929, was chosen among the first members of the Royal Academy of Italy.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 331
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Enrico Fermi (29 Sep 1901–28 Nov 1954), Find a Grave Memorial no. 331, citing Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .