Timeline Description: Enrico Fermi (1901 - 1954) was an Italian-born American physicist who led the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction, constructed the first nuclear reactor (Chicago Pile-1), and contributed to the Manhattan Project. Fermium, the 100th element, is named for him, and he received the 1938 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in radioactivity.
|September 29, 1901||Enrico Fermi is born.
Enrico Fermi is born in Rome, Italy on September 29, 1901. His father works as an inspector of government railways, and his mother is a teacher who encourages her children's education. When Enrico's beloved older brother dies suddenly, he turns to physics and develops a deep interest in the subject.
|July 1922||Fermi graduates from university with honors.
In 1918, Fermi wins a scholarship to the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore at Pisa. His professors are astounded by his deep knowledge of modern physics, and he quickly enters the doctoral program. He graduates with honors in July 1922, with his thesis focusing on X-rays.
|1923||Fermi studies with renowned scientists(1923 - 1924).
In 1923, Fermi wins a scholarship from the Italian government and moves to Göttingen, Germany, where he studies with physics professor Max Born. In 1924 he wins a second fellowship and moves to Leyden, the Netherlands, to work with Paul Ehrenfest.
|1924||Fermi takes a position at the University of Florence.
In 1924 Fermi returns to Italy and takes a position as Lecturer in Mathematical Physics and Mechanics at the University of Florence. He studies general relativity, statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics, and he holds his teaching position for two years.
|1926||Fermi develops a system of statistical laws.
Thanks to his work in Florence, Fermi discovers the statistical laws that govern subatomic particles obeying Pauli's exclusion principles. These subatomic particles, which include electrons, neutrons, and protons, later become known as fermions, and the statistical laws as the "Fermi-Dirac statistics." This discovery is crucial to the development of atomic and nuclear physics and quantum mechanics.
|1927||Fermi takes a position at the University of Rome.
In 1927 Fermi takes a position as Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Rome, where he studies electrodynamic problems and spectroscopic phenomena. He eventually focus on the atomic nucleus. He retains this position until he emigrates to America.
|July 19, 1928||Fermi marries Laura Capon.
On July 19, 1928, Fermi marries Laura Capon, the daughter of a distinguished Jewish family in Rome. They have a son, Giulio, and a daughter, Nella. Laura's Jewish background will later lead them to emigrate to America to escape the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe.
|March 1934||Fermi experiments with nuclear fission.
Building on studies of artificial radioactivity, Fermi launches his own study of atomic transformation. He uses the neutron to bombard charged nuclei and initiate artificial radioactivity. Fermi and his colleagues discover that slowed neutrons are often more effective at provoking transformation. They observe strange radioactivities when experimenting with uranium, but it is not until 1938 that two separate teams prove Fermi's discovery of nuclear fission.
|December 1938||Fermi is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics and emigrates to America.
In 1938, Fermi is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for demonstrating the existence of artificial radioactive elements produced by neutrons, and for the discovery of slow neutrons. The award ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, serves as an opportunity for Fermi and his family to escape Mussolini's fascist dictatorship in Italy and emigrate to America.
|January 1939||Fermi discovers how to create an atomic chain reaction.
Upon arriving in the United States, Fermi is appointed professor of physics at Columbia University in New York. While working at Columbia, he discovers that uranium neutrons can split other uranium atoms. If controlled, this splitting can produce energy, or a nuclear reactor; if the neutrons travel at their normal speed, their subsequent chain reaction can produce huge amounts of energy. This news astounds scientists, as it suggests the possibility of constructing an atomic bomb.
|December 2, 1942||The first nuclear chain reaction takes place.
Fermi moves to Chicago, where he constructs a series of "piles" on an athletic field under Chicago's athletic stadium. He names this structure "Chicago Pile-1," and on December 2, 1942, the pile goes critical, meaning a nuclear chain reaction takes place. This is the first successful trial of a chain reaction, and Chicago Pile-1 becomes the prototype for later nuclear reactors.
|August 1944||Fermi joins the Manhattan Project.
After becoming an American citizen, Fermi moves to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to join J. Robert Oppenheimer's Manhattan Project laboratory. The project aims to create nuclear weapons out of uranium and plutonium. Fermi serves as the associate director of the lab, as well as the head of a division.
|July 1, 1945||Fermi accepts a position at the University of Chicago.
As World War II comes to a close, Fermi accepts a position as a professor at the University of Chicago's Institute of Nuclear Studies, which he begins after the war ends. He focuses his studies on elementary particle physics, or high-energy physics. He remains at Chicago until his death in 1954.
|July 16, 1945||The first plutonium bomb is tested.
On July 16, 1945, the Manhattan Project tests the first plutonium bomb near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Fermi observes the path of slips of paper dropped into the blast wave to calculate how much explosive energy the bomb produces.
|October 30, 1949||Fermi's advisory committee counsels against pursuing a thermonuclear bomb.
After the Soviet Union successfully tests an atomic bomb in September 1949, the United States considers constructing a thermonuclear bomb, which could be enormously more powerful than an atomic bomb. Fermi serves on the General Advisory Committee, which unanimously opposes the pursuit of thermonuclear devices as "evil" instruments of "genocide."
|November 28, 1954||Fermi dies.
Enrico Fermi dies on November 28, 1954 in Chicago, Illinois of incurable stomach cancer. Element 100 is named fermium in his honor, as is the Fermilab particle accelerator and physics lab in Illinois.