Monday, July 13, 2015

Fun : How did physicist Enrico Fermi learn to fix car ?


Enrico Fermi was the father of the Chicago Pile-1, world’s first artificial nuclear reactor and also Fermi weak interaction theory.

Articles on Mr. Fermi’s biography did not say how Fermi learned to fix car, except one note by physicist Emilio Sègre:

“Mechanical proficiency and practical gadgets in America counterbalanced to an extent the beauty of Italy. … we bought a car the Flying Tortoise, which we drove back to New York, not without some mechanical difficulties along the way. These did not scare Fermi, who is a good mechanic. Once at a gas station he showed such expertise and repairing automobile that the owner instantly offered him a job. And these were Depression days.”.

But Fermi’s aptitude and ability to solve practical problems was well-known among his peers. His starting spot for learning how to fix car was probably nothing more than some general guidance from some book on car in the 1920's, in Italy, or the US. And he was a theoretical physicist, not a mechanic.

But the way Fermi’s mind worked is this : Try to visualize the main idea/concept, albeit how unfamiliar,strange, or difficult at first. Learn as much as you can what are involved in the problem. Think through, then divide the big problem into subsets, or smaller sets of problem and solve each one to the best answer, with the best clarity you can. I believe this is how Mr. Fermi was able to trace car problems, pretty fast, and was able to fix problems as a pro, and got the offer to be a mechanic from the car dealer instantly, even in the time of the Big Depression.

Learning to solve problem by dividing it to subsets, and solving step by step seems to be logical. This can solve the problem to the root of it. But having the knack for it can be a different thing.



Rhodes, Richard. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Simon &Schuster, 1987

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