(September 29, 1901 – November 28, 1954)
Fermi was indecisive earlier as an undergraduate. He set out to study mathematics before switching to physics. Tutored by Luigi Puccianti, Max Born, and Paul Ehrenfest, he ranked among the greatest physicists of the 20th century. He also excelled in both theories and practicals: cutting his teeth with broad research in spectroscopy, statistical mechanics and electrodynamics. After Wolfgang Pauli suggested the existence of electrically neutral subatomic particle with negligible mass, Fermi expanded the idea, termed the particle “neutrino” and theorized about it in what is known as Fermi’s Theory of Beta Decay. By broadening his experiments on atomic nuclei, he was able to prove that many elements undergo nuclear transformations when bombarded with neutrons. This resulted in the discovery of slow neutrons, which in turn, inspired Otto Hahn’s research that culminated in the discovery of nuclear fission. It also helped chemists to accurately identify some of the-then missing elements in the periodic table. These early successes ensured that he was later called upon to supervise a series of atomic research codenamed the “Manhattan Project”. Enrico Fermi’s research and discoveries won him the 1938 Nobel Prize and other accolades both in his lifetime and posthumously. Apart from Fermi’s Theory of Beta Decay, he is the eponym of: Fermions, Fermium, Fermi Paradox and the Fermi Award (the USA Atomic Energy Commission’s highest honor). Among his notable students are: Yang Chen-Ning and Tsung-Dao Lee, who shared the physics Nobel Prize in 1957. Also dedicated to his memory is the 183-kilometer-wide Fermi lunar crater.