Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the antiproton for Emilio Gino Segré – Aurora

Born in Tivoli, Lazio, Italy, he was an Italian-American physicist who, together with Owen Chamberlain, won the 1959 Nobel Prize.

Son of Sephardic parents studied engineering at the Roman university of La Sapienza. In 1927 he changed his career to physics and received his doctorate in 1928 with a thesis supervised by Enrico Fermi. He belonged to the so-called Rome Group.

After military service, from 1928 to 1929 he worked with Otto Stern in Hamburg and with Pieter Zeeman in Amsterdam, as a member of the Rockefeller Foundation. Segrè was professor of physics at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” from 1932 to 1936. From 1936 to 1938 he was director of the physics laboratory at the University of Palermo.

After his visit to the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory with Ernest O. Lawrence. In 1937, Ernest sent Segrè a sample of molybdenum that had been bombarded with deuterium nuclei (deuterons) in the Berkeley cyclotron for analysis, as it was emitting abnormal forms of radioactivity. After careful chemical and theoretical analysis, Segrè was able to prove that part of the radiation was being produced by an unknown chemical element that was called technetium because it was the first artificially synthesized (from the Greek technetswhich means “»artificial”). A posteriori it has been found in nature, although in very small doses.

While Segrè was visiting California in the summer of 1938, Mussolini’s fascist government expelled Jews from universities with its anti-Semitic laws. As a Jew, Segrè was granted an indefinite emigrant’s permit. At the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, Ernest O. Lawrence offered him a job as a Research Assistant (a fairly low position for someone who had discovered an element) at a salary of $300 a month. Furthermore, when Lawrence learned that Segrè was legally trapped in California, he lowered his salary to $116 (many, including Segrè, saw this as exploitative). Segrè, however, was able to find another job as a professor in the physics department at the University of California at Berkeley. While there, he helped discover the element known as astatine and the isotope plutonium-239 (later used to create the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki).

From 1943 to 1946, he worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory / Los Alamos National Laboratory, within the group in charge of the Manhattan project. In 1944 he obtained US citizenship and, when he returned to Berkeley in 1946, he worked as a professor of physics there until 1972. In 1974, he returned to the University of Rome “La Sapienza” as a professor of nuclear physics.

Segrè was also an amateur photographer and his snapshots documented events and portrayed people for the history of modern science. The American Institute of Physics (American Institute of Physics) gave its name to the Photographic Archive of the History of Physics in his honor.

He died at the age of 84, of a heart attack, in Lafayette, California (United States).

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Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the antiproton for Emilio Gino Segré – Aurora