Enrico Fermi and the Chain Reaction That Changed Everything

Jul 12, 2018 79

ENRICO FERMI lived and breathed physics. As a youngster in Italy, Ph.D. not yet in hand, he taught himself the novel theories of quantum physics and relativity. As he lay in a hospital bed nearing death from stomach cancer in 1954, at the too young age of 53, he kept a tally of the fluids his body was absorbing by counting off the drops of his intravenous drip while looking at a stopwatch. In between, he changed the world.

David Schwartz, the author of this authoritative new biography, tells us that at least two of Fermi’s colleagues thought of him as “the last man who knew everything” (hence the book’s title). This was not literally true, of course. Of the arts, music, literature, and history he knew little; he wasn’t even particularly knowledgeable about science, beyond physics. But within his domain, he was the master: He knew everything there was to know about the workings of the physical world, at a time when such knowledge could (just barely) be contained in one individual’s brain.

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SOURCE: https://undark.org/

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