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Enrico Fermi was one of the greatest minds ever and one of, if not the most, influential nuclear scientist s ever. His work on the atomic bomb and nuclear transformations would earn him the Nobel Prize and a reputation for brilliance his whole life. Fermi was truly one of the greatest minds of our time.
Born in Rome, Italy in 1901 Fermi was a hard worker until he died in 1954. He first became interested in science after the death of his older brother Giulio. At the age of 16 Fermi left for college at the University of Pisa a school known at the time for it s sciences. He was so brilliant even then that his admission essay was considered worthy of a doctoral examination. He formed his first theory that would forever change the world of physics when he was still an undergrad. Used to being the center of attention the only minor setback in is career was in 1923 during a post-doctoral study under the German scientist Max Born. His talent was buried under the talents of many other future Nobel Laureates and went unnoticed.
In 1926, at the age of 25, Fermi became a professor at Rome University and picked out a team of the most talented students available. In 1933 Fermi developed the theory of Beta Decay a theory that resulted in the recognition of the weak interaction force. Fermi and his team came within the thickness of aluminum foil to discovering nuclear fission in 1934. While bombarding uranium the foil blocked the emissions that his elements would have normally picked up. It was not until later that they realized that what he had achieved was indeed nuclear fission. Instead though Fermi made the most important discovery of his career. He realized that slowing neutrons by passing them through a light-moderator would increase their effectiveness. This discovery would lead to the ability to use nuclear reactors.
In 1938 Fermi received the Nobel Prize for his previously mentioned discovery of slow neutrons and his theory on Beta emissions. He received the Prize a day after Mussolini issued his anti-semantic laws. Fermi and his Jewish wife, Laura, used his prize money to move to the United States. Fermi accepted a post as a professor at Columbia University.
Having a Jewish wife Fermi committed himself to stopping the Nazis and their ideals, so when his colleague at Columbia, Leo Szilard approached him about helping the military form a bomb using atomic fission Fermi agreed. Thus Fermi joined the Manhattan Project. The main goal of Fermi and Szilard s experiments were to prove that they could sustain a nuclear chain reaction. After much debate and research they decided on building a uranium-graphite reactor.
In order to build the reactor they had to move the project to the University of Chicago. They started work on it in 1940 and finished it in 1942 when on a doubles squash court under the bleachers they completed the first nuclear reactor: the CP-1. The reactor was the size of a two-car garage and shaped like a doorknob. Throughout the experiment Fermi remained cool and confident and when the control rods were pulled out completely he grinned. He had just accomplished the first sustained the first controlled nuclear reaction. From here on all that remained to do on the bomb was engineering. Fermi shut down the reactor after 28 minutes.
In 1945 the scientists had created the first nuclear bomb and were ready to test it. Fermi was on hand for the test, which took place on U.S army property in Alamogordo, New Mexico, under the code name of Trinity. Fermi remarked prior to the test that the test was worthwhile even if it didn t work because it would prove that nuclear explosion was impossible. During the test Fermi created an amazingly simple way to test the explosiveness of the bomb. He dropped a handful of torn paper and declared that since there was no wind, that the distance the paper traveled horizontally would indicate the explosiveness of the bomb. After the successful test Fermi measured the paper and declared that the bomb had the explosive power of 10,000 tons on TNT.
Fermi died of stomach cancer in 1954 in Chicago. Before he died he had argued against the development of a hydrogen bomb because he felt that it had no practical use other than genocide. Enrico Fermi s discoveries and theories helped shape nuclear physics and had many lasting benefits on our world.
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