PHYSICS - Enrico Fermi 1938 - Chicago, IL
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member libbykc
N 41° 47.642 W 087° 35.794
16T E 450434 N 4627080
Quick Description: Memorial to nuclear physicist and Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi outside his Hyde Park home.
Location: Illinois, United States
Date Posted: 11/24/2019 11:14:09 AM
Waymark Code: WM11P55
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member NW_history_buff
Views: 3

Long Description:
Memorial to Fermi and his wife Laura outside the home they shared in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. Full text of the memorial reads:

Enrico (1901–1954)
and Laura Fermi (1907–1977)
Physicist and peace activist

The atomic age arrived on December 2, 1942, when Enrico Fermi produced the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. He did this in a laboratory under the Stagg Field bleachers at the University of Chicago. That work led to the development of the nuclear bomb as well as to peaceful applications of nuclear power.

As a faculty member at the University of Rome, Fermi won the 1938 Nobel Prize in physics for producing artificial radioactive substances. Fearing for his Jewish wife, Laura, because of Fascist Italy’s anti-Semitic legislation, he brought his family to the United States directly from the awards ceremony in Stockholm.

Fermi’s suggestion that the United States could develop atomic weapons led to his work at the University of Chicago from 1942-1954. There he constructed the nuclear reactor as part of an enormous secret wartime effort called the Manhattan Project. He and his team then were sent to New Mexico to develop the atomic bomb.

After the war, Fermi returned to the University of Chicago and taught there until his death. Fermilab, the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratory in the western suburbs, is named in his honor.

Laura Fermi became a writer and political activist. Her books reflected the spectrum of her experience. Illustrious Immigrants: the Intellectual Migration from Europe 1939-41 and Atoms in the Family: My Life with Enrico Fermi are among her best-known works. The Fermis lived here at 5537 South Woodlawn Avenue.

From the Atomic Heritage Foundation website:

Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) was an Italian physicist and recipient of the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics.

In 1942, Fermi relocated to the Chicago Met Lab, where he built an experimental reactor pile under Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. Construction was completed on December 1 and the reactor went critical the next day. In August 1944, Fermi went to Los Alamos as an associate director and key consultant.

At the Hanford site in 1944, Fermi inserted the first uranium slug into the “B” pile reactor, just as he had for the first pile in the CP-1 reactor two years earlier. During the "B" reactor test, Fermi was in charge of directing operations. His meticulous calculations, completed on a slide rule, determined how much uranium needed to be added to the reactor; measurements confirmed that his calculations were astoundingly accurate.

The start-up failed, however, when the reactor shut itself down. John Wheeler hypothesized that some unknown substance was forming during fission and absorbing the neutrons needed to sustain the reaction. Fermi immediately agreed with Wheeler’s explanation and began working with him to find the unknown poison. By comparing the half-life of different radioactive gases with the amount of time that the reactor failed Wheeler and Fermi were able to discover that the problem substance was xenon-135.

At Los Alamos, Fermi served as an associate director of the laboratory. After the Trinity test, Fermi remarked: “My first impression of the explosion was the very intense flash of light, and a sensation of heat on the parts of the body that were exposed. Although I did not directly look towards the object, I had the full impression that suddenly the countryside became brighter than in full daylight.”

Ever the inquiring scientist, Fermi took the opportunity to conduct an experiment of his own. Just as the blast hit, he dropped several pieces of paper. Having measured their displacement and making a quick mental calculation, Fermi declared: “That corresponds to the blast produced by ten thousand tons of TNT.”

Fermi advised the Interim Committee on target selection, recommending the bombs be used without warning against an industrial target.

In 1944, Fermi became American citizen, and at the end of the war he accepted a professorship at the University of Chicago's Institute for Nuclear Studies, a position which he held until his untimely death. There he turned his attention to high-energy physics, and led investigations into the pion-nucleon interaction. He also served on the Atomic Energy Commission's General Advisory Committee.

The Enrico Fermi Award, a prestigious science and technology honor given by the US government, bears his name.

In 1938, Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons." His research on the bombardment of elements to produce fissionable isotopes was critical to the success of the Manhattan Project.

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Field of Accomplishment: Physics

Year of Award: 1938

Primary Relevant Web Site: [Web Link]

Secondary Relevant Web Site: [Web Link]

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