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Enrico Fermi: Atomic Energy, 9147

Fine Young Scientist

Back in Rome, Fermi made the acquaintance of Orso Mano Corbino, head of the University of Rome's engineering school and a senator in the nation's government. The Italian government granted Fermi scholarships and fellowships which permitted advanced studies with two specialists in quantum mechanics: Professor Max Born, the Physics Nobelist, at the University of Gottingen and Dr. Paul Ehrenfest at the University of Leiden. Werner Heisenberg was a classmate at Gottingen.

Returning to Italy in 1924, as Mussolini's Fascist government was forming and still a protégé of Corbino, Fermi took the specially created position as Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Rome. Corbino's aim was the restoration of Italy's diminished scientific standing and he began recruiting the finest young scientists to build Fermi an outstanding physics department.

At first Fermi's group worked with spectroscopic phenomena and quantum mechanics. In this time, before the discovery of the neutron and while quantum theory was still being developed, Fermi focused his attention on the properties of electrons. His theory of Fermi Statistics concerns the probability of electron distribution at given levels within the atom. He determined that his namesake fermions, the basic sub-atomic particles of matter, obey the Pauli Exclusion Principle.

Laura Capon, a chemistry student, and Enrico Fermi were married in 1928 and their children, Nella and Giulio were born in 1931 and in 1936.

Fermi first visited the United States in 1930 to address a summer symposium on quantum theory; he returned in the summers of 1933 and 1935 through 1937.