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Conference Examines Enrico Fermi's Impact on Modern Physics from Manhattan Project on

"Enrico Fermi shaped the destiny of physics from the Manhattan Project through the present times," said Tsung-Dao Lee, University Professor at Columbia and a student of Fermi's at the University of Chicago from 1946 to 1949. Lee was part of a group of distinguished Italian and American physicists who took part in a conference on Nov. 15 and 16 entitled, "Enrico Fermi and the Beginnings of Nuclear Fission," at Columbia University's Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America to celebrate the the centennial of the birth of Enrico Fermi, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose World War II-era experiments helped lead to the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Many of the participants, including Nobel Prize winners Lee and Willis Lamb, worked with Fermi at Columbia, the University of Chicago or Los Alamos and provided personal accounts of their experiences with Fermi. The event highlighted Fermi's breakthrough experiments and his impact on science and culture, including nuclear medicine, fission as an energy source and government funding of science research.


David Freedberg

Ferdinando Salleo

Henry Pinkham

Steven Kahn

Introductions by David Freedberg, Director of Columbia's Italian Academy of Advanced Studies in America; Ferdinando Salleo, Ambassador of Italy; Henry Pinkham, Dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Steven Kahn, chair of the Department of Physics at Columbia.

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Tsung-Dao Lee

Tsung-Dao Lee discussed Fermi's impact on physics in the United States, describing him as a master in both theory and experimentation.

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Willis Lamb

Willis Lamb, University of Arizona, had been a member of the Columbia's Physics Department in 1939 and brought news to Fermi that nuclear fission had been created by neutron bombardment of uranium.

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Richard Garwin

Applications of nuclear fission since 1945 have restructured our lives, providing great benefits and great risks, according to Richard Garwin, Thomas J. Watson Research Center, IBM. Garwin who studied with Fermi, said that he played a central role in mastering nuclear fission by means of his study of the neutron chain reaction. According to Garwin, today there are 103 nuclear power reactors, providing heat for the generation power for 20 percent of the world's energy needs. He concluded by offering recommendations for improvements for both nuclear and non-nuclear power plants. For nuclear plants, he recommended honest evalutions of accident probability and risk. For non-nuclear facilities, he suggested that consideration should be given to the storage of energy, especially compressed air, to match consumption to energy generation.

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Milla Baldo Ceolin

According to Milla Baldo Ceolin, Universita' degli Studi di Padova, Fermi's theory on beta decay or the evolution of weak interactions is the greatest contribution to nuclear physics. She discussed the origins of Fermi's neutrino theory. Fermi's lessons compared to those of were the same as Galilieo's--rationality first, then efficiency.

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Published: Dec. 04, 2001
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002