Colloquium on Jan. 25: Enrico Fermi – The Pope of Physics

Bettina Hoerlin and Gino Segrè

On this, the 50th anniversary of the laboratory, we’re hosting a Fermilab Colloquium on its pioneering namesake, Enrico Fermi. The talk takes place on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 4 p.m. in One West.

Fermi was a quintessential physicists who attained the very heights of the profession theorist and experimentalist. His 1938 Nobel Prize was picked up en route in his flight from fascist Italy with his Jewish wife and children to find a new life in America. In 1942, he led a team of scientists that assembled the first “nuclear reactor” called the Chicago Pile-1, producing the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, also a critical precursor to the building of the atomic bomb. He played a key role in the success of the Manhattan Project.

University of Pennsylvania physics professor Gino Segrè and writer Bettina Hoerlin co-authored The Pope of Physics: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age. On Wednesday they will be at Fermilab to discuss Fermi’s personal life and his scientific contributions, illustrating how he was shaped by history and how he, in turn, shaped history. Legendarily apolitical, Fermi was unavoidably pulled into the American political world during wartime and postwar time. The many dramas physicists faced at those times, and the particular ones immigrants encountered, are still relevant today.

Pushpa Bhat is the chair of the Fermilab Colloquium Committee, which organizes the colloquium series.