Rome, Stockholm, New York

In 1938, Enrico Fermi was a 37-year-old professor of physics at the University of Rome. His reputation had grown substantially with studies of atomic particles and his work in theoretical and experimental physics. On November 10, his achievements received their greatest recognition when Fermi learned he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. The official announcement cited Fermi "for his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons."

The Nobel Prize was a signal professional honor. But living in Mussolini’s Italy with his Jewish wife, Laura, Fermi had become increasingly concerned about the growing number of Fascist anti-Semitic laws and the government control that might be imposed on his scientific research. In December 1938, Enrico Fermi left Italy with his wife and two children to accept the Nobel Prize in Physics at the award ceremony in Stockholm. Instead of returning home to Rome, however, the Fermi family traveled to England and then on to New York City, arriving in January 2, 1939. Fermi immediately took up a professorship that he had accepted at Columbia University and began working intensively with a young colleague there, Herbert L. Anderson.

Portrait of Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi
University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center, Archival Photographic Files, apf1-06024
Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938. He is best known for his leadership of the Manhattan Project team at the University of Chicago, which produced the first controlled self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction on December 2, 1942.