The Royal Institute of Physics: from Blaserna to Corbino and the boys of Via Panisperna.
The monumental complex in via Panisperna, inaugurated in 1881, was entirely designed by the Gorizia physicist Pietro Blaserna (1836-1918), who also supervised its complete construction, to house the Royal Institute of Physics. Called to Rome in 1872 to the chair of experimental physics and to the direction of the future Institute of Physics, as part of a larger project for ‘Rome capital’ advocated by Quintino Sella, since then Blaserna has dedicated himself to the creation of an Institute on the other hand, on the centrality of the laboratory and experimentation, on the other, open and attentive to the programs and progress of international science. Thanks to these peculiarities, the Institute became a real ‘creative environment’ and for decades represented an unavoidable point of reference for the most advanced Italian physics research.
Starting from 1918, the year of Blaserna’s death, it was Orso Mario Corbino who directed the Institute: he too was a great organizer of research policy, in 1926 he managed to obtain the establishment of the first chair of theoretical physics in Italy, on which called the young Enrico Fermi. It was precisely in this place that Fermi 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”. 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 understanding of 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 an international science center to an archive of the State Police, then incorporated into the compendium of the Viminale. In 1999 the establishment of the Enrico Fermi Research Center was unanimously approved by Parliament. Twenty years have passed from the approval of the law to the time when the building was physically delivered to the CREF: the police archive was moved to another location and the building was renovated with the addition of an entire floor
By virtue of its ‘double soul’ as a research center and museum, the “Enrico Fermi” Historical Museum of Physics and Research and Study Center is intensely dedicated to the dissemination and promotion of scientific culture, with attention and commitment that make it a unique reality in Italy. Its mission is therefore also to preserve and disseminate the memory of the life and works of Enrico Fermi in Italy and around the world and to promote a wide dissemination and communication. This is made possible thanks to the setting up of the historical museum of physics ‘The scientific legacy of Enrico Fermi’.
Fermi’s greatness, his extraordinary figure as a master and giant of 20th century physics, his formidable scientific achievements, the result of an exceptional creative mind ‘in balance’ between theories and experiments, will be effectively illustrated within the path. museum. A path of which the wonderful internal courtyard is an integral part, in the center of which stands the famous fountain called ‘goldfish’; the entrance stairway, immortalized in 1931 on the occasion of the first congress of nuclear physics attended by the most famous theoretical physicists of the time; up to the wide corridors with vaulted ceilings on the first floor, along which Fermi and his collaborators ran, when they were carrying out the famous experiments on neutron-induced radioactivity.