October 2, 2001

U of C puts stamp on Fermi celebration

The U.S. Postal Service has issued a new 34-cent stamp honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of Enrico Fermi. The ceremony took place at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 29, in the Cloister Club of Ida Noyes Hall and was followed by a symposium dedicated to remembering the Nobel Prize winning physicist. The symposium, lasting from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., was titled “Fermi Remembered," and featured scientists who were students and colleagues of Fermi during the time he was a professor at the University of Chicago.

“The University is proud of the scientific tradition [Fermi] represented…and aims to continue the tradition" said University president Don Michael Randel. “How can we think about doing anything after September 11? That's what makes this ceremony even more important…it will be what makes this nation worth defending," Randel said of Fermi's work in what is now known as the Enrico Fermi Institute.

Fermi is credited with being the first physicist to split the atom during his work at the University of Rome. Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of nuclear reactions in 1938; shortly thereafter Fermi emigrated to the United States where he taught physics at Columbia University and began experiments to create a controlled nuclear chain reaction. In 1942, Fermi and his work were transferred to the University of Chicago, where he participated in the design and production of the first nuclear reactor as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II.

“We are here, above all, to honor him as a teacher," said Roger H. Hildebrand, a junior colleague of Fermi's, whose credits include work on the first particle accelerator at the Fermi Institute. “He came to work every morning at 7:30…cranked out copies on a ditto by hand. Three students collected, assembled, and edited them…students carried them around," he recalled as he pulled out his own worn copy of Fermi's work to show the audience.

After World War II, Fermi accepted a teaching position at the U of C's new Institute for Nuclear Studies. Here, Fermi and his colleague Herbert Anderson discovered the structure of nuclear particles, now known as quarks. His work also centered around developing the synchrocyclotron, the largest particle accelerator in the world at that time. The photograph on the stamp was taken during Fermi's days at the U of C's

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Institute for Nuclear Studies.

Hildebrand praised Fermi for staying on campus and teaching students after World War II and wished to “congratulate the Postal Service for getting it right," a reference to the image featured on the stamp: a colorized photo of Fermi at the chalkboard, teaching physics.

Following Fermi's death on November 16, 1954, the Institute for Nuclear Studies was renamed the Enrico Fermi Institute for Nuclear Studies.

Also in named in his memory is the element fermium, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, and the Enrico Fermi Award, the U.S. Government's oldest science and technology award.

“How appropriate to honor [Fermi] today, on the 100th anniversary of his birth," said Einar V. Dyhrkopp, serving as the ceremony's dedicating official.

“It is fitting because Fermi gave birth to the atomic age at the University of Chicago…World War II was ended months, maybe years [earlier] because of Fermi. I have to give credit to Roosevelt for going through with the project…and to Harry Truman for dropping the bomb," Dyhrkopp said.

“To all those who criticize, all I can say is that they just weren't there."

Dyhrkopp finished his speech by asking all on stage and Fermi's family members, who had been honored earlier in the ceremony, to help unveil the new 34-cent stamp.

Attending the unveiling ceremony were Dr. Akinyinka O. Akinyele, Ph.D., lead executive district manager of the Chicago district U.S. Postal Service, also serving as the Master of Ceremonies; Don Michael Randel, president of the U of C; Roger H. Hildebrand, professor emeritus in the department of physics, astronomy, and astrophysics in the Enrico Fermi Institute and the College; Danny Jackson, vice president of the Great Lakes Area U.S. Postal Service; and Einar V. Dyhrkopp, member of the board of governors of the U.S. Postal Service.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Illinois Governor George Ryan's official proclamation of September 29, 2001 as Enrico Fermi Day was read by Dr. Akinyele. The stamp can be viewed and purchased on the U.S. Postal Service Web site at