Of Things Fermi

Wishing to grok, at least simplistically, my grandfather’s contributions to science has led to a corollary: this list of things named after Enrico Fermi framed in layperson’s language. I am interested in dialogue about this list.

Fermi Question – (Fermi Problem, Fermi Estimation) My grandfather often decided how to proceed by first making a relatively simple order of magnitude estimation. This method of mathematical inquiry, which anyone can learn, came to be named after him. As of May 2009, here is excellent Wikipedia on the Fermi Question.

Now I have a question. What was my grandfather’s greatest contribution?

A physicist may tell you Fermi’s identification of the weak force in nature, a fourth force fundamental to our universe is arguably his most important contribution to science. (The other three forces are the strong force, gravity and electro-magnetism.)

As a social scientist, I say the Fermi Question is my grandfather’s most important contribution to the world.

And the funny thing is – he didn’t invent or discover the Fermi Question. He simply used the method – consistently, persistently and in a way which has inspired others. Enrico Fermi was a teacher and a mentor. At least half a dozen people who worked with or studied under Enrico Fermi went on to win their own Nobel Prizes.

The idea of the Fermi Question calls us to look into the heart of the matter – whether in the hard sciences or in life. On Earth, we are now, facing the many choice-points which may move us toward extinction or thriving. Please do ask a (Fermi) Question today!

Fermi-Dirac Statistics – Dirac, a quantum genius, and Fermi, a neutron natural, each independently described the behavior of electrons and how only one electron at a time can inhabit any one energy state of its atom.

Fermion – Enrico Fermi described key aspects of how matter works at a sub-atomic level. In particle physics, fermions are particles which obey Fermi-Dirac Statistics and thus are associated with matter. For example: electrons and protons are fermions.

Fermi Surface – Fermi sea and Fermi sphere – coming soon!

Fermi Paradox – If there is intelligent life out there in the Universe beyond our Earth, how come we haven’t seen any yet?

More Named After Enrico Fermi

Fermi – unit of length equal to one quadrillionth of a metre.

Fermium -Element #100 in the periodic table.

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope – On June 11, 2008 NASA launched the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope to open a new window on the universe. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, and the gamma-ray sky is spectacularly different from the one we perceive with our own eyes. In the late 1940s, Enrico Fermi produced the first quantitative ideas on how cosmic particles could reach the enormous energies needed to produce these cosmic-gamma rays.

The Enrico Fermi Institute is a scientific research facility within the University of Chicago.

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), a high-energy particle physics research facility outside of Chicago, IL and the new book: Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier and Megascience by Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne W. Kolb and Catherine Westfall.

Postage stamps of Enrico Fermi