Ugo Fano, 1995


For his seminal and sustained theoretical contributions to atomic and radiation physics over six decades as exemplified by the phenomena that bear his name: the Fano Effect, the Beutler-Fano Profile, the Fano Factor, and the Fano-Lichten Mechanism.


Ugo Fano is a prominent student of Enrico Fermi and one of the last living students from Fermi's group in Italy. He published his first paper in 1934 and his latest in 1995. Thus, his science career in the number of phenomena that indication of his pervasive influence in physics is the number of phenomena that bear his name: the "Beutler-Fano Profile," the "Fano-Lichten Mechanism," the "Fano Effect," and the "Fano Factor." His work has been dedicated primarily to achieving a better and deeper understanding of the dynamics of atoms and molecules and the ways they interact with light, electrons, and each other. His seemingly formal use of fundamental theory has been the underpinning of a vast variety of practical results which developed naturally from this understanding. It is characteristic of his studies to introduce unifying concepts and procedures that reduce apparently diverse and complex phenomena to a simple and practical description. The following paragraphs describe only a few of Ugo Fano's many contributions to physics.

His contributions to the understanding of the basic physics underlay the development of the gas laser, now an ubiquitous tool of all the physical and biological sciences. The design and development of such lasers required detailed knowledge of atomic and molecular energy levels, spectroscopic information, lifetimes of exiting state, and other basic atomic and molecular properties. Fano helped lay the groundwork for generations of theoretical physicist and physical chemists in developing the body of knowledge that was, and remains, crucial to the development of new lasers, from high precision lasers used in fundamental studies of relatively and basic concepts in quantum mechanics to ultra-short pulsed lasers now being used to study chemical reactions in a time.

Another area in which Fano has made invaluable contributions is the interaction of penetrating radiation with matter. Apart from the general importance of this field of research in materials studies, biological radiation effects are the basis for a vast variety of diagnostic and therapeutic applications, without which so much of today's clinical treatments would not exist. His publications in this field go back to the early 1940's.

Fano urged experimentalist to develop spectroscopy using synchrotron radiation for the observation of doubly exited autoionizing states in rare gases . In order to classify doubly exited states of helium, he discovered a new quantum number. Fano stimulated the study of resonances and doubly exited states, which was the beginning of the vast knowledge we now have about double exited states of atoms and molecules.

In 1969, Professor Fano predicted that photoionization by circular polarized light can yield highly polarized photoelectrons. Other, more esoteric examples of importance to our understanding of fundamental interactions in nature include his studies of spatial symmetry, atomic angular momentum, spin and magnetism of electrons, evanescent temporary capture of external electrons and other particles by atoms; and cooperative motions of bound electrons in complex atoms and molecules.

At the end of the sixth decade of active research, he continues to publish with colleagues, postdocs, and even undergraduate students in the world's most prestigious physics journals.

Ugo Fano was born in Torino, Italy, in 1912. He earned his Sc.D. in Mathematics at the University of Torino in 1934. His postdoctoral work was with Enrico Fermi at the University of Rome (19 34-36) and with Werner Heisenberg at the University of Leipzig (1936-37). After emigrating to the United States, he worked at Washington Biophysical Institute (1939-40) and at Carnegie Institution. Washington D.C. (1940-46 ). During 1944 and 1946, he worked at the Ballistic Research Laboratory of the U .S. Army (Aberdeen Proving Ground). Professor Fano was naturalized in 1945. From 1946- 19 66, he worked at the National Bureau of Standards where he was Chief of Radiation Theory and Senior Research Fellow. From 1966 to the present, he has been at the University of Chicago and James Franck Institute. He has been Professor Emeritus since 1982.

Among his many awards are the Rockefeller Public Service Award (1956), Gold Medal of the Department of Commerce for Exceptional Service (1957), Stratton Award of the National Bureau of Standards (1963), and the Davisson-Germer Award (1976). He holds an honorary degree from Queen's University, Belfast, and the Docteur Honoris Causa from the University Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris. Professor Fano is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome: and Royal Society of London.

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