Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactors to release nuclear energy,and thereby generate electricity. The term includes nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion.
The Inventors Hall of Fame states that, "Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard discovered the first nuclear reactor in which nuclear chain reactions are initiated, controlled, and sustained at a steady observable rate." Today, Enrico Fermi’s nuclear reactor is in common use in nuclear power plants. Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard received U.S. patent #2,708,656 for the nuclear reactor.
Enrico Fermi was born in Rome, Italy, on September 29, 1901.The son of a railroad official, he studied at the University of Pisa from 1918 to 1922 and later at the universities of Leyden and Gottingen. He became professor of theoretical physics at the University of Rome in 1927.
In 1933, he developed the theory of beta decay, postulating that the newly-discovered neutron decaying to a proton emits an electron and a particle which he called a "neutrino". The theory developed to explain this interaction later resulted in recognition of the weak interaction force. Investigation into the weak force has been one of the major areas of study at Fermilab.
Experimentally, Enrico Fermi and his colleagues, during the early 1930's, studied in detail the theory of neutrons; they bombarded most of the elements in the periodic table with them. They slowed down the neutrons, and among other things, produced a strange new product when bombarding uranium with neutrons which later was recognized to be a splitting of the uranium atoms.
Enrico Fermi moved to the University of Chicago to be in charge of the first major step in making feasible the building of the atomic bomb.
In the squash courts under the west stand of the University's Stagg Field, Fermi supervised the design and assembly of an "atomic pile", a code word for an assembly that in peacetime would be known as a "nuclear reactor". Today, a plaque at the site reads: "On December 2, 1942, man achieved here the first self-sustaining chain reaction and thereby initiated the controlled release of nuclear energy."
Enrico Fermi was the prime mover in the design of the synchrocyclotron at the university which was, at the time of its completion, one of the most powerful atom smashers in the world.
Fermi’s momentous accomplishments caused him to be recognized as one of the great scientists of the 20th century. Following his death on November 28, 1954, a number of science institutions and awards have been named in his honor.