Atomic Physicist: ENRICO FERMI

He was the last of the double-threat physicists: a genius at creating both esoteric theories and elegant experiments

If the 19th century was the century of chemistry, the 20th was the century of physics. The burgeoning science supported such transforming applications as medical imaging, nuclear reactors, atom and hydrogen bombs, radio and television, transistors, computers and lasers. Physical knowledge increased so rapidly after 1900 that theory and experiment soon divided into separate specialties. Enrico Fermi, a supremely self-assured Italian American born in Rome in 1901, was the last great physicist to bridge the gap. His theory of beta decay introduced the last of the four basic forces known in nature (gravity, electromagnetism and, operating within the nucleus of the...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!