(September 29, 1901 – November 28, 1954)
Fermi was phenomenal. Indecisive earlier as an undergraduate, he set out to study maths 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 far-flung research in spectroscopy, statistical mechanics and electrodynamics. After Wolfgang Pauli suggested that an undiscovered electrically neutral subatomic particle with negligible mass might exist, Fermi expanded this 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 succeeded in proving that many elements undergo nuclear transformations when bombarded with neutrons. This resulted in the discovery of “slow neutrons”, which would in turn inspire 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 steady successes ensured that he was later called upon: to supervise a series of novelty research codenamed the Manhattan Project. Enrico Fermi’s works and discoveries won him the 1938 Nobel Prize and other laurels both in his lifetime and posthumously. Apart from Fermi’s Theory of Beta Decay, he is the eponym of: Fermions, Fermi Paradox, and 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 1957 physics Nobel Prize. Also dedicated to him is the 183-kilometer-wide Fermi lunar impact crater.