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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Enrico Fermi and nuclear physics


Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, U.S. Department of Energy


Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) was an Italian physicist best known for creating the first nuclear reactor. Novelist C. P. Snow said,


"If Fermi had been born a few years earlier, one could well imagine him discovering Rutherford's atomic nucleus, and then developing Bohr's theory of the hydrogen atom. If this sounds like hyperbole, anything about Fermi is like to sound like hyperbole." (Wikiquote)


The rest of this post is some quotes form Fermi.


Nuclear weapons


"Such a weapon goes far beyond any military objective and enters the range of very great natural catastrophes... The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of this weapon makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole. It s necessarily an evil thing considered in any light." (Official General Advisory Committee report for the Atomic Energy Commission, 1949)


"Whatever Nature has in store for mankind, unpleasant as it may be, men must accept, for ignorance is never better than knowledge." (


"Actually there was no choice. Once basic knowledge is acquired, any attempt at preventing its fruition would be as futile as hoping to stop the earth from revolving around the sun." (Collected Papers of Enrico Fermi, 1939-1954)


"It is clear that the use of such a weapon cannot be justified on any ethical ground which gives a human being a certain individuality and dignity even if he happens to be a resident of an enemy country." (


Nuclear science


"Although the problem of transmuting chemical elements into each other is much older than a satisfactory definition of the very concept of chemical element, it is well known that the first and most important step towards its solution was made only nineteen years ago by the late Lord Rutherford, who started the method of the nuclear bombardments." (Nobel lecture, 1938)