PHYSICISTS have a professional divide. You are either an experimentalist or a theorist.
Lord Ernest Rutherford (the discoverer of the atomic nucleus) was a great experimentalist.
George Gamow, in his book Thirty Years That Shook Physics, narrates that Rutherford was so poor in Mathematics that the famous Rutherford formula for particle scattering was derived for him by young mathematician R.H. Fowler. Albert Einstein, who was famous for his thought experiments, never handled scientific equipment.
When asked the whereabouts of his laboratory, he pointed to his head with a pencil.
A top scientist, who was good in both theory and experiment, was the late Italian physicist Enrico Fermi.
His work paved the way for the first nuclear chain reaction and the creation of the atomic bomb.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938 and was among the many scientists who emigrated to the United States before World War II.
In his book Enrico Fermi: Pioneer of the Atomic Age, Ted Gottfried told a story of Fermi arriving for his appointment with an American admiral when he was intercepted by the admiral's aide who asked him to wait while he informed his boss of his arrival. Fermi overheard the ethnic slur uttered by the aide: "There's a wop outside."
At that time Fermi was already a Nobel laureate. Richard Rhodes, in his book The Making of The Atomic Bomb, quipped: "So much for the authority of the Nobel Prize."
Before Fermi left Italy for the US, he was already awarded the title "Eccellenza" (His Excellency) by Mussolini.
Once he attended a meeting of the Academy of Sciences when Mussolini was to address the assembly.
All other members were chauffeured in their foreign-made limousines except for Fermi who drew up in his humble little Fiat.
According to Gamow, he was stopped by two carabinieri who crossed their weapons in front of his little car and asked his business there.
Fermi was shy to tell the guards that he was His Excellency for fear they would not believe him. To avoid further embarrassment he told them he was the driver of His Excellency, Signore Enrico Fermi. "Ebbene," said the guards, "drive in, park and wait for your master."