This playground is named in honor of Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), one of the great physicists of the 20th century whose work revolutionized quantum physics and helped usher in the atomic age. Fermi was born in Rome, Italy, and earned a doctorate in physics from the University of Pisa, Italy, in 1922. Widespread acclaim came to Fermi in 1926, when he discovered the statistics verifying the Pauli exclusion principle, one of the basic foundations of nuclear physics.
From 1927 to 1938, Fermi taught at the University of Rome. In 1934, he discovered the theory of beta decay, which helped to clarify scientific understanding of the mechanics of the atom. Fermi received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938 for his work in artificial radiation from neutrinos, or uncharged particles with no mass. Fearful of the fascist regime that rose to power in Italy in the 1930s, Fermi fled the country in 1939, and accepted a professorship at Columbia University in New York City.
Fermi became involved with the Manhattan Project, the American research project to build an atomic weapon; he quickly emerged as one of the project’s leaders. In 1942, at the University of Chicago, Fermi directed the first ever controlled chain nuclear reaction. He then moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he continued his research on the project. Fermi and his fellow scientists succeeded in developing the first atomic weapons. After testing one bomb in New Mexico, two more were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing an end to World War II.
In 1946, after World War II had ended, Fermi returned to the University of Chicago as a professor at the newly created Institute for Nuclear Studies, which was later named the Enrico Fermi Institute for Nuclear Studies. His work in the field of nuclear physics allowed science to tap the power of the atom, making not only weapons, but also power plants for cites. Fermi died on November 28, 1954, at the age of 53, and is regarded not only as a great physicist and researcher, but also a great teacher. He wrote several physics textbooks, and the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission granted him its first special award shortly before his death. In 1954, a new element was named fermium in his honor.
Fermi Playground is jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education. The site was selected in 1961 by the Board of Estimate for school and recreation purposes, and it opened in 1969. Originally named J.H.S. 111 Playground, it was renamed Fermi Playground in 1985, to match the school’s alternate name, Enrico Fermi Learning Lab.
Fermi Playground is bounded by Troutman Street, Wilson Avenue, Starr Street, and Central Avenue. The park contains a comfort station, benches, a flagpole with a yardarm, handball courts, basketball courts, swings for tots and for children, and play equipment with safety surfacing. In 1998 the handball and basketball courts were renovated and in 2001 the playground was reconstructed, and new play equipment, an automated spray shower feature, a community garden, security lighting, steel security fences, a weathervane, and animal art were installed.