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Emilio Segrè

co-discoverer of the antiproton; Nobel Prize for Physics Laureate

Emilio Segre

Emilio Gino Segrè was born in Tivoli, Rome, on January 30, 1905 (his birth certificate was not filed until February 1). He attended schools in Tivoli and Rome before entering the University of Rome as an engineering student in 1922. He changed his major to physics in 1927, studied under Professor Enrico Fermi, and received his doctorate in 1928. After service in the Italian Army in 1928 and 1929, he returned to the University of Rome as an assistant to Professor Corbino. In 1930, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship allowed him to work with Professor Otto Stern at Hamburg, Germany, and Professor Pieter Zeeman at Amsterdam, Holland.

In 1932, Segrè was appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Rome, where he participated in neutron experiments directed by Fermi in which many elements, including uranium, were bombarded with neutrons, and elements heavier than uranium were created. Those experiments led to the discovery of slow neutrons, which have properties important to the operation of nuclear reactors.

In 1936, Segrè was appointed Director of the Physics Laboratory at the University of Palermo, and it was there that he and Carlo Perrier discovered technetium, the world's first artifically produced element.

In 1938, while visiting the Radiation Laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley, Segrè learned that the Fascist government of Italy had passed laws forbidding Jews from holding academic positions, so he accepted a research associate position at the laboratory. Here, he and Glenn Seaborg isolated technetium-99m, which is now used in some ten million medical diagnostic procedures a year. In 1940, he, Dale R. Corson, and Kenneth Ross MacKenzie discovered the element astatine, the rarest natural element in the Earth's crust. Later that same year, he, Joseph W. Kennedy, and Arthur C. Wahl isolated plutonium-239, which was later used in the first atomic bomb and in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

From 1943 to 1946 Segrè was a group leader in the Los Alamos Laboratory of the Manhattan Project. He became a naturalized citizen in 1944. He returned to the University of California at Berkeley as a Professor of Physics after the war, and remained there until retiring in 1972. It was during the latter tenure that he and Owen Chamberlain used the Radiation Laboratory's new bevatron particle accelerator to discover the antiproton, on September 21, 1955, and it was for that discovery that the two shared the 1959 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Segrè was appointed professor of nuclear physics at the University of Rome in 1974, but returned to the United States after reaching the mandatory retirement age a year later. He died in Lafayette, California, on April 22, 1989.

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This page was last updated on 07/27/2017.