The CREF was established by the Law no. 62 of March 15, 1999. During a first period, the strategies of the CREF and its organizational structure were defined, but the actual activities did not start as the Via Panisperna building underwent to a long phase of restructuring, which ended at the end of 2019. The particular location of the headquarters within the Viminale complex (the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs) has also made the process of reconversion to a scientific institution long and complex, a process not yet fully completed. Starting from November 2019, with the official delivery of the new headquarters, almost totally restored, the properly operational, scientific and museum phase began.
The Enrico Fermi Research Center (CREF) was founded in 1999, but only recently the complete restoration of the famous building in Via Panisperna was completed so that it can be used for scientific purposes. The goal was to return the famous building in Via Panisperna to a scientific use that would honor the memory of the fundamental discoveries of Fermi’s group that took place in this very building. The first step was to establish a museum with the original finds of Fermi’s experiments showcased via appropriate modern audio–video systems that would make the meaning of these historical events readily understandable to new generations as well.
In addition to this dutiful homage to the heritage of seminal events, however, something more original and current was also thought of. Fermi was a scientist oriented to the future and to a particularly innovative vision of science. From this perspective it was decided that, in addition to the historical aspect reflecting the past, CREF also has its own research activity oriented to the present and the future. As in Germany, for example, the memory of Max Planck is mainly honored by a large network of prestigious scientific institutes, so it was proposed that CREF also become a nucleus of particularly original and innovative research, precisely in the spirit that characterized Enrico’s activities.
The CREF must not merely replicate or collaterally support activities already being carried out by other institutions. When seeking to do something original and on a high level, even if on smaller dimensions, it is natural to focus on the new scientific issues that are appearing on the horizon with increasing frequency. Often these clusters are interdisciplinary in nature and often related to the field of Complex Systems.
In the Italian scientific world, disciplinary groupings tend towards a sectorization of research that does not favor interdisciplinarity. On the other hand, it is clear that a small and agile CREF can play the role of quickly orienting itself towards new, particularly current and innovative activities. CREF can therefore seize this strategic opportunity to be an institution that stimulates innovative scientific issues, that is, an incubator for start-ups of a scientific nature. The elements that enhance this opportunity are the undoubted prestige of the CREF and its headquarters and also its limited size, which becomes an advantage to enable quick and effective decisions in identifying new strategic issues. From this point of view, however, the idea is to be totally open to new developments and proposals that can also come from the outside. As for the specific issues, it is clear that reference will be made to the principles and methods of physics but interpreted in a modern key and with a focus on social relevance and possible collaboration with companies and other institutions.
For example, Ettore Majorana, of the Fermi group, wrote an article in 1930 entitled “The Value of Statistical Laws in Physics and Social Sciences”. This visionary article, published posthumously in 1942, posed a challenge that is particularly relevant today, especially when considered from the perspective of Big Data. Therefore, in addition to themes that are characteristic of more traditional physics but selected for their originality, we intend to develop themes such as data science, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, among which Complexity and Economic Fitness represent a very current example.
The Royal Physical Institute of Via Panisperna in Rome was inaugurated in 1881 and here, under the direction of the physicists Pietro Blaserna and Orso Mario Corbino, a real ‘creative environment’ flourished where Enrico Fermi, who rose to the chair of theoretical physics in 1926, he organized and prepared the conditions that led to the birth of that group of young scholars who in the 1930s became famous as the “boys of via Panisperna” (Franco Rasetti, Emilio Segrè, Edoardo Amaldi, Bruno Pontecorvo, Oscar D’Agostino and Ettore Majorana). Here, under his scientific guidance, within an exceptional season for Italian science, the first experiments on the phenomenon of radioactivity induced by neutrons began, fundamental researches for the structure of the atomic nucleus, whose success was crowned with the award to Fermi of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938.
At the same time the Institute was transferred to the new university city of “Sapienza” and so the building in Via Panisperna was used for another function: from the international science center to the archive of the State Police, then incorporated into the compendium of the Viminale.
In 1995 Prof. Bruno Maraviglia, at the time director of the physics department of the “Sapienza” University, wrote the first letter to the Minister of the Interior in which he put forward the hypothesis of using the building in Via Panisperna as a physics museum. Following this, in September 1998, Dr. Luigi Squitieri, serving at the Interior Ministry, came to see me in the Senate (at the time I was a senator) and spoke to me with great passion about an appeal addressed to the Minister of the Interior, a position he held at the time by Giorgio Napolitano, to restore the monumental complex of via Panisperna to science. Thus was born the Panisperna Committee, with the aim of pursuing the dream of reviving in Panisperna the forge of creativity and research that had been in the time of Enrico Fermi. I quickly prepared a bill, then signed by numerous colleagues, and unanimously approved by the Parliament which became law of the Republic in March 1999, to establish the “Historical Museum of Physics and Enrico Fermi Study and Research Center” there ”(Hereinafter Enrico Fermi Research Center – CREF), of which the first president was Prof. Antonino Zichichi.
Twenty years have passed from the approval of the law to the moment in which the building was physically delivered to the CREF: the police archive was moved to another location and the building was renovated. During all this time the Panisperna Committee has constantly followed and monitored the project process, defended the state funding and kept the interest alive through the Enrico Fermi Scientific Conferences, held annually at the Argentina theater in Rome in the presence of hundreds of students .
The CREF, which today can finally begin its scientific activities and the dissemination of science, wants to be on the one hand a place of memory and teaching for the new generations to remember that group of “boys” who gave rise to the Italian school of physics and which contributed to those fundamental discoveries that led to the control of nuclear energy; on the other hand, with the activities it is developing, also look to the future with innovative and original scientific projects.