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Enrico Fermi: Atomic Energy, 9147

An Alternative Use

On August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the next on Nagasaki three days later. Japan surrendered on August 14, ending the six years of World War II. Germany had earlier surrendered on May 7, 1945. While German scientists had been prominent in the discovery and identification of nuclear fission, their wartime application efforts had not succeeded.

Atomic scientists had also pointed out the peacetime use of nuclear fission as an alternative to oil and coal in providing the heat transfer energy to create steam for turbines in electricity generation. A program of nuclear power plant construction began.

Back in post-war Chicago, Fermi became a professor at the Institute for Nuclear Studies at the university. His interest now lay in the nature and origin of cosmic rays: the high-energy, high-speed particles that bombard the earth from outer space. Construction of the giant cyclotron in Chicago in 1947 gave a convenient source of sub-atomic particles for study. Fermi theorized that cosmic ray particles begin and gain their speed from collisions with clouds of magnetism in outer space. The Fermi-Walker transport process describes this condition in terms of general relativity.

Enrico Fermi died in Chicago from stomach cancer on November 28, 1954. Since then, space exploration has grown and increased and now cosmic rays in space are being examined directly. Hardware to artificially create cosmic rays is no longer essential, but those developing new theories stand on the shoulders of Fermi in extending knowledge of the sub-atomic particle universe.