Emeriti Colloquium on Enrico Fermi

 Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Dale Nimrod presented an Emeriti Colloquium lecture entitled “Enrico Fermi: Understandable Aspects of Nuclear Fission” on Oct. 10 in the Shirley Baker Commons.

Nimrod spoke to an audience of fellow emeritus professors and Decorah community members as part of the Emeriti Colloquium series organized by Professor Emeritus of Biology Jim Eckblad. Nimrod focused on two books about Italian physicist Enrico Fermi during his lecture. The first, “Atoms in the Family: My Life with Enrico Fermi,” was written by Fermi’s wife, Laura Capon Fermi. The other is “Enrico Fermi, Physicist,” which was written by his friend and former student Emilio Gino Segrè.

Capon Fermi’s “Atoms in the Family” is an account of the couple’s emigration to the United States in the 1930s following the rise of fascism in Italy and the success of her husband’s scientific career that eventually earned him a Nobel Prize. “Enrico Fermi, Physicist” is a biographical account of Fermi’s life written by longtime collaborator Segrè, who explains the scientific questions Fermi studied in his lifetime in nontechnical terms. 

Nimrod enjoys the opportunity the colloquium provides to explore and share content outside of his academic specialization. 

“When you‘re retired, you can read whatever you want,” Nimrod said. “I read this book and really liked it. Shortly after, I discovered the second book and realized they were both very readable, so this lecture is a combination of a book report and hero worship.”

Fermi was instrumental in the development of nuclear science and spent much of his career working as a theoretical physicist. However, he was also an influential experimental physicist involved in a number of well-known nuclear experiments, such as the University of Chicago-Pile-1, the creation of the neutron gun, and the development of the atomic bomb with J. Robert Oppenheimer. Nimrod believes both books make Fermi’s life and experiments accessible to all readers, regardless of their level of familiarity with the scientist.

“One of the things that surprised me is that it was readable, because most of that kind of [content] isn’t easy to comprehend,” Nimrod said. “I guess one of the biggest things was how he could do theoretical work and then just go right into the experimental projects like designing the bomb.”

Eckblad said Nimrod’s reviews of the books expanded on the history surrounding that time period and believes Nimrod told Fermi’s life story in a manner that anyone can understand. 

“I enjoyed how it wasn’t really about what Dale taught when he was a professor,” Eckblad said. “That helped make it understandable for the layman, so I think everyone in the audience could understand the concepts.”

The Emeriti Colloquium series is in its fifth year and consists of retired Luther professors and community members. Lectures are given once a month during the academic year and tend to cover a broad range of interests and academic disciplines. Nimrod believes they are enjoyable to attend as a retired community member. 

“What has really stood out to me is the variety,” Nimrod said. “One person has talked about canoes built out of wood strips, and another has looked at connections in photography. They have been a huge success and a lot of fun. Some have been more serious trying to teach us things we didn’t know, and others have had less of a specific purpose.”

Earlier in the year, Nimrod attended an emeriti lecture on dance and aging lead by Professor of Dance Jane Hawley (‘87), who explained basic movement fundamentals to her audience. Hawley believes her lecture and others have many potential benefits for attendees. 

“We did [improvisational dances] for 20 minutes and I watched Dale Nimrod end up with his head between his legs, which he didn’t realize he could do,” Hawley said. “One of the tenets [of movement fundamentals] is advocating for all abilities . . . and this is a great group of elders in our community. Having the opportunity to share what I am passionate about with them is a joy.”

Nimrod began his career at Luther in 1967 as a chemistry professor. After seven years of teaching, he became eligible for sabbatical and started working with a grant that provided computers for 16 school districts in Iowa. After 10 years, Nimrod returned to Luther as part of the computer center before rejoining the chemistry department until his retirement in 2004.

Gary Mineart will give the he next Emeriti Colloquium lecture entitled “US Weather Satellites: The Return on Your Investment” on Nov. 14 at 3:00 p.m. in the Shirley Baker Commons. 

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