The lost notebook of ENRICO FERMI. The true story of the discovery of neutron-induced radioactivity. Translated from the Italian and updated by the authors. (English) Zbl 1397.81006

Cham: Springer; Bologna: Società Italiana di Fisica (ISBN 978-3-319-69253-1/hbk; 978-3-319-69254-8/ebook). viii, 261 p. (2018).
This book is devoted in some sense to the history of the Nuclear Physics and to one of the famous scientists of 20th century Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) who discovered neutron-induced radioactivity. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938 “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 motivation of the authors is the fact that on July 2002 they identify one of Fermi’s notebooks in the Library of Istituto Tecnico per Geometri “Oscar D’Agostino” in Avellino. It turns out that the notebook covers all investigations by which Fermi proved existence of neutron-induced radioactivity. Here it is defined as the “Nobel Prize first notebook”.
We note that the authors carry out a detailed analysis of the contents of the above mentioned remarkable Fermi’s notebook. This allows the reader to understand in depth the conceptual and operational procedure followed by E. Fermi during the entire time-period of his experimental research. To understand Fermi’s ideas in the present book, the authors give first a comprehensive description of the development of the nuclear physics in first decades of 20th century. So the first seven chapters are devoted to this. Chapter 8 is devoted to the discovery of neutron-induced radioactivity as well as Fermi’s notes and a remarkable letter to “La Ricerca Scientifica” informing the scientific society about his discovery of the neutron-induced radioactivity. It happened on March 25, 1934. The next chapters are devoted to the influence of Fermi’s research on the change of the periodic table. He gives for first time a complete periodic table put in the usual order taking into account the increasing atomic number.
What contains the so called Irpina notebook and the loose sheets of paper the reader may find in the next chapters.
Reading the above mentioned notebook it seems that the simple methodology which he has used everywhere allows Fermi to obtain outstanding results in nuclear physics. Analyzing the Fermi’s notebook the authors conclude that “the achievement of momentous results with very limited means constitutes the triumph of intelligence and creativity”.


81-03 History of quantum theory
01A60 History of mathematics in the 20th century
00A79 Physics
81V35 Nuclear physics
81V45 Atomic physics
78A35 Motion of charged particles
82D75 Nuclear reactor theory; neutron transport

Biographic References:

Fermi, Enrico
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