Colloquium on Enrico Fermi by biographer David Schwartz – Dec. 13

David Schwartz

We end this year’s 50th anniversary Colloquium series with a talk from David Schwartz, a biographer of our lab’s namesake, Enrico Fermi. The talk not only celebrates Fermi’s life but will also take place close to the 75th anniversary of Chicago-Pile 1 (CP-1) led by Fermi, who achieved the first controlled self-sustained nuclear chain reaction at the University of Chicago in December 1942.

Schwartz recently completed the book The Last Man Who Knew Everything, released last week. He will give the Colloquium, titled “How Fermi Became Fermi,” on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 4 p.m. in One West.

Enrico Fermi was one of the most significant figures of 20th century physics, with major contributions across a wide range of subdisciplines. Fermi revolutionized 20th-century physics with his theory of beta decay and his development of quantum statistics.

Schwartz will discuss the development of Fermi as a physicist; the role of nature, nurture and historical circumstance in his career; and the characteristics behind both his strengths and his weaknesses. He will address some fascinating questions. Are great physicists born, do they make themselves, or do others make them? How does the accident of one’s birth influence a career like Fermi’s? What was it that enabled Fermi to continue to contribute to the field well beyond the age when many great physicists are content to rest on their previous achievements?

David N. Schwartz holds a Ph.D. in political science from MIT and is the author of two previous books. He has worked at the State Department Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the Brookings Institution and Goldman Sachs. He is the son of Melvin Schwartz, who shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in physics with Jack Steinberger and Fermilab’s second director Leon Lederman for the two-neutrino experiment.

Pushpa Bhat is a senior scientist in the Particle Physics Division and the Directorate and the chair of the Fermilab Colloquium Committee, which organizes the Colloquium series.