THE POPE OF PHYSICS by Gino Segrè

THE POPE OF PHYSICS

Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first English-language biography of Nobel Prize–winning physicist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), a highly respected figure in both of the author's families.

As Segrè (Physics and Astronomy/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Ordinary Geniuses: Max Delbruck, George Gamow, and the Origins of Genomics and Big Bang Cosmology, 2011, etc.) and Hoerlin (Steps of Courage: My Parents' Journey from Nazi Germany to America, 2011) note, the title “Pope of Physics” was jokingly bestowed on Fermi at the start of his career by his colleagues because he was able to use “the simplest of means [to] estimate the magnitude of any physical phenomena.” Segrè’s uncle, Emilio, was Fermi's first physics student in Rome, and the families maintained their friendship in the United States after they were forced to flee Mussolini’s increasingly anti-Semitic regime (the Segrè family and Fermi’s wife, Laura, were Jewish). The authors use this biography of Fermi's life—beginning with his university days, when he immersed himself in the new field of quantum physics, and culminating in his own groundbreaking accomplishments—to engagingly chronicle the major developments in nuclear physics that were the focus of his life's work. Fermi played a key role in a revolution in physics that set the stage for the development of semiconductors, transistors, computers, MRIs, and more. In 1925, he extended the exclusion principle formulated by Wolfgang Pauli—that no two electrons in an atom could have identical quantum numbers—to the broader field of statistical mechanics. His most significant discoveries, made in the 1940s after his move to America, involved the possibility of using slow neutrons to induce fission reactions and create a chain reaction. Fermi's scientific work arguably played a key role in the rapid conclusion of World War II and the shaping of the subsequent Cold War. While he advocated for further efforts at international control of nuclear weapons, he did not join the anti-nuclear movement.

A vivid retelling of events that still shape our lives today.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-62779-005-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2016




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