Fermi was one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. Fermi was one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century



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Fermi was one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century.

  • Fermi was one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century.

  • He is best known for his leading contributions in the Manhattan Project but his work spanned every field of physics.



In 1901, Enrico was born in Rome to Alberto Fermi, a Chief Inspector of the Ministry of Communications, and Ida de Gattis, an elementary school teacher.

  • In 1901, Enrico was born in Rome to Alberto Fermi, a Chief Inspector of the Ministry of Communications, and Ida de Gattis, an elementary school teacher.



While in Pisa, Fermi and his friends had a well-earned reputation as pranksters.

  • While in Pisa, Fermi and his friends had a well-earned reputation as pranksters.

  • One afternoon, while patiently trapping geckos (used to scare girls at the university), Fermi came up with the fundamental theory for electrons in solids.

  • Fermi’s theory later became the foundation of the entire semiconductor industry.



Fermi was famous for being able to avoid long, tedious calculations or difficult experimental measurements by devising ingenious ways of finding approximate answers.

  • Fermi was famous for being able to avoid long, tedious calculations or difficult experimental measurements by devising ingenious ways of finding approximate answers.



“What is the length of the equator?”

  • “What is the length of the equator?”



Solving a problem in 60 seconds (individually)

  • Solving a problem in 60 seconds (individually)

  • Look around the room you are sitting in. Take just 60 seconds to answer the following questions:

  • How many ping-pong balls could you fit into the room?



Solving a problem in 60 seconds (individually)

  • Solving a problem in 60 seconds (individually)

  • Look around the room you are sitting in. Take just 60 seconds to answer the following questions:

  • How many ping-pong balls could you fit into the room?

  • What was your model of a ping-pong ball? What was your model of the room?



Solving a problem in 60 seconds (individually)

  • Solving a problem in 60 seconds (individually)

  • Look around the room you are sitting in. Take just 60 seconds to answer the following questions:

  • How many ping-pong balls could you fit into the room?

  • What was your model of a ping-pong ball? What was your model of the room?

  • What other simplifications or assumptions did you make?



Open ended problem solving.

  • Open ended problem solving.

  • Thought process is more important than calculating exact answer.

  • Steps in solving Fermi problems



What do Fermi Problems have to do with engineering

  • What do Fermi Problems have to do with engineering

    • Engineers have to solve open ended problems that might not have a single right solution
    • Engineers have to estimate a solution to a complicated problem
    • Engineers have to think creatively


The extreme age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that if the Earth is typical, extraterrestrial life should be common.

  • The extreme age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that if the Earth is typical, extraterrestrial life should be common.

  • Discussing this proposition with colleagues over lunch in 1950, Fermi asked: "Where is everybody?”

  • We still don’t have a

  • good answer to Enrico’s

  • question.



The physicist Enrico Fermi enjoyed posing questions like these to his students and colleagues.

  • The physicist Enrico Fermi enjoyed posing questions like these to his students and colleagues.

  • Pick one part (either a or b) from each of the following two questions, and make the best possible estimate for the situation. Your answer will be a combination of several quantities. Be sure to specify what assumptions you have made in arriving at your estimate.



1. a. How long do you think it would take you to eat your weight in food?

  • 1. a. How long do you think it would take you to eat your weight in food?



2. a. How many hot dogs do you think are sold in a baseball season at Oriole Park?

  • 2. a. How many hot dogs do you think are sold in a baseball season at Oriole Park?

  • or

  • b. How many times does a person's heart beat in a lifetime?




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