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Enrico Fermi (1901-1954)

Photo
Photo A7; portrait.
Photo courtesy Laura Fermi.
CREDIT: AIP Emilio Segrè
Visual Archives.

"Whatever nature has in store for mankind, unpleasant as it may be, men must accept, for ignorance is never better than knowledge." -- Enrico Fermi

Photo
Photo B12; at blackboard,
elbow on desk.
CREDIT: Photo by S. A. Goudsmit,
courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè
Visual Archives

Fermi was small as a child, unattractive and often lonely. Around the age of thirteen, he found a passion for mathematics and physics, and quickly sped beyond the classical curriculum of his school in Rome. He could not afford new textbooks, and haunted the used-book stalls of the Campo dei Fiori.

One day he came home with an antiquated two-volume treatise on mathematical physics and immediately plunged in. Over the next few days, Fermi kept exclaiming over his discoveries: how exciting, how wonderful, the way the book explained the movement of the waves, the motions of the planets, the tides! When he got to the end he discovered something else about the book, which he had not noticed before--it was written in Latin.

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