A discussion with physicist Gino Segré and author Bettina Hoerlin
Abstract. This colloquium will focus on a towering figure in the history of physics, unquestionably the most famous scientist to come from Italy since Galileo. Based on their recently published book, THE POPE OF PHYSICS: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age (Henry Holt, October 2016), co-authors Segrè and Hoerlin will discuss Fermi’s modest beginnings in Rome amidst the tumultuous environment of fascist Italy, his immigration to America escaping anti-Semitism and how he became a key figure in the Manhattan Project. Fermi’s prolific career, spanning both theoretical and experimental physics, is unparalleled and changed the shape of modern physics.
Gino Segrè is a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. He has been a visiting professor at MIT and Oxford University, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, and director of the theoretical physics at the National Science Foundation. He is the author of three books of scientific history: Ordinary Geniuses, Faust in Copenhagen, and A Matter of Degrees. Fermi inspired Segrè to become a physicist, so the desire to commemorate him in a biography was deeply felt. In addition, Segrè’s uncle, Emilio, was Fermi’s first student in Italy, later a long-time collaborator, and won a Nobel Prize of his own.
Bettina Hoerlin served as health commissioner of Philadelphia and taught at the University of Pennsylvania. She has been a visiting lecturer at Haverford College and Oxford University. She is the author of Steps of Courage: My Parents’ Journey from Nazi Germany to America. Though not a physicist herself, Hoerlin was the daughter of one, and grew up in the Atomic City of Los Alamos. Like her husband and co-author, Gino Segrè, Hoerlin’s parents fled anti-Semitism in Europe at the same time that Fermi did. Hoerlin and Segrè’s exhaustive research took them to Rome, Pisa, the University of Chicago and Los Alamos, as well as to Trinity, the New Mexico site of the first nuclear explosion.