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Thread: Enrico Fermi's Legacy

  1. #1 Enrico Fermi's Legacy 
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    Several days ago, I posted an historical quip generally accepted as true, about Enrico Fermi, the man who proved nuclear fission's possibilities, after allowing the "Chicago Pile" to go critical, thereby proving that fission of atoms could support itself, in which he stated, "I'm hungry! Let's go to lunch! This event happened under a squash court stadium, I understand, at Chicago's Stagg Field. For several months, Fermi & his cohorts, including technical students, scientists, and the like, had been obtaining great numbers of chunks of carbon, which they dutifully cut into similar-sized blocks, shaped for fit, and piled onto one-another (hence, "pile"), as arrangements were made for vertical holes to be provided, into which tubes containing "fissionable material" would be suspended, as well as "moderating rods", I think, but am not sure, of cadmium. Pulling this all from distant memory, bear with me, please.

    The pile of carbon blocks, containing tubes filled with uranium compound, and rods Fermi referred to as "zip" rods, was about 16 feet square, and 8 or ten 10 feet high. Many well-known authorities privy to the concept of "atomic energy" were present on the day, when, Fermi declared the pile would "go critical". Among them were Leo Szilard, often thought of as the originator of this scheme, Karl Compton, and others of eminent esteem in the Physics Community.

    Their only measuring devices then, "Geiger Counters", were relied on to maintain safe observations of the results. Fermi ordered the control rods raised upwards, thereby relieving the "blockage" of neutrons blasting free of their Uranium nuclei, in stages, while observing the radiation effects. Clearly, this thing wanted to completely "eat itself", as did the subsequent conglomeration of uranium trucked halfway around the globe, to decimate the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

    As criticality became evident, the entire fissionable mass wanting to complete it's work, Fermi ordered the "zip"rods re-inserted, thus shutting down the nuclear reaction. Supposedly he then said, "I'm hungry. Let's go to lunch!"

    This event occurred on December 2, 1942, 71 years ago today. I myself am now 71 years old; the nuclear event happened when I was 16 weeks old! No idea if this was kept from public eyes, anyway, no one in our community would have grasped it's significance, at the time. We were all families of immigrants, trying to make a go of it in the "promised land".

    Most amazingly, Fermi supervised the construction of the world's first nuclear reactor using no blueprints and only sketched diagrams as work progressed. He MUST have been one of the MOST TRULY GIFTED physicists of his time, don't you think? jocular


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  3. #2  
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    Yes, he was but the thing you seem to find most amazing, that "Fermi supervised the construction of the world's first nuclear reactor using no blueprints", is an engineering feat, not physics.


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    Quote Originally Posted by HallsofIvy View Post
    Yes, he was but the thing you seem to find most amazing, that "Fermi supervised the construction of the world's first nuclear reactor using no blueprints", is an engineering feat, not physics.
    Do you mean to imply, that he did not use Physics as a source of Scientific knowledge and information, to build the "pile"? jocular
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    Quote Originally Posted by HallsofIvy View Post
    Yes, he was but the thing you seem to find most amazing, that "Fermi supervised the construction of the world's first nuclear reactor using no blueprints", is an engineering feat, not physics.
    The construction act can be considered "engineering", the operation, on the other hand, is definitely "physics".
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