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Theoretical physics

Fermi's predictions live on

Nature volume 540, page 199 (08 December 2016) | Download Citation


Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin's biography of Enrico Fermi — The Pope of Physics (Henry Holt, 2016) — is a delightful sequel to the inspiring Atoms in the Family, written by Fermi's wife Laura in 1954 (Univ. of Chicago Press). I find reviewer Graham Farmelo's judgement too harsh on the fallibility of Fermi's foresight (see Nature 538, 168–169; 2016).

In 1934, Fermi predicted (in a paper rejected by Nature) that particles actually change their identity in weak nuclear interactions; with his student C. N. Yang in 1949, he suggested that there were too many particles for them all to be elementary. These remarkable testaments to Fermi's foresight have survived as founding concepts of today's standard model of matter.

Twenty years later, I generalized the Fermi–Yang model by assuming that quarks combine to form neutral composite states that interact only over short distances (P. C. M. Yock Int. J. Theor. Phys. 2, 247–254; 1969). A similar solution was later adopted in the theory of coloured quarks (H. Fritzsch et al. Phys. Lett. 47B, 365–368; 1973) on which the standard model is based.

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  1. Auckland, New Zealand.

    • Philip Yock


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Correspondence to Philip Yock.

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