The revolutionary figure of Fermi | Laboratory manager

One way to better understand an atom is to send a particle to it and infer the properties of the atom based on how the particle bounces off it. In the mid-1930s, physicist Enrico Fermi showed that a measurable number – the scattering length – shed light on everything one could know about the scattering of an electron by an atom or a neutron by a nucleus. . In a new journal in EPJ Historical Perspectives on Contemporary PhysicsChris Gould of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, USA, explains how Fermi’s simple sketch of a radial wave function laid the groundwork for a better understanding of low-frequency scattering phenomena. energy, and in turn led to the concept of pseudopotential, widely used in many areas of physics, including research on ultracold atoms and studies of qubits in quantum computer implementations.

In Fermi’s atomic physics paper, published in 1934, his sketch of a radial wave function – the value of a wave function at some distance from a scatterer – was the clue that led to the understanding of a puzzling result of atomic spectroscopy.

In his paper on neutron physics, published in 1936, Fermi went in a different direction, using the concept of scattering length to introduce a new idea – the pseudopotential, a potential well with a radius of zero – to correctly predict how a neutron diffuses in paraffin.

Gould concludes that Fermi’s extraordinary intuition enabled the physicist to apply concepts to seemingly unrelated fields and develop ideas that impact the world of quantum physics to this day.

– This press release was originally published on the Springer website

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