Neutron trail

The Neutron Trail[1] is a cultural inquiry into nuclear legacy intended to raise awareness and stimulate strategic thinking around nuclear power and nuclear disarmament. Neutron Trail deals with paradoxical human dilemmas, such as the world’s need for large outputs of energy amid ongoing and often charged discussions regarding sustainability, and pervasive public fears surrounding nuclear energy.[2] Through visiting the people and places most impacted by society’s nuclear legacy, transmedia projects, public lectures and workshops, the Neutron Trail works to engage people from all walks of life in an ongoing exploration and evaluation of existing perceptions — true and untrue — about nuclear energy and weapons.[3]

About the Founder

Olivia Fermi, the eldest grandchild of Manhattan Project physicist Enrico Fermi and his wife Laura Fermi, founded the Neutron Trail. Born after her grandfather died, she was also deeply influenced by her writer/activist grandmother, whose memoir Atoms in the Family made the New York Times best-seller list in 1954–55.[4][5]


Enrico Fermi built the first nuclear reactor (Chicago Pile-1) in an abandoned squash court at the University of Chicago. He ran the historic experiment for 28 minutes. In April 2009 artist Matthew Day Jackson invited Olivia to participate in a ceremonial game of squash. Jackson and the younger Fermi’s game tied “the physics of a squash ball to the physics of the first nuclear reactor”;[6] was filmed in Los Alamos, New Mexico and displayed in a 28–minute video loop at the M.I.T. List Visual Arts Center and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.[7]

Jackson also filmed Olivia’s visit to Trinity in Southern New Mexico, location of the first atomic bomb test on July 16, 1945.[8]

On September 29, 2011, for the 110th anniversary of Enrico Fermi’s birth, she visited the future Centro Fermi,[9] scheduled to open in 2014 in Rome, at Via Panisperna where Enrico conducted his Nobel Prize–winning research.[10]

In October 2011 Olivia visited CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. She toured various key experimental areas including the CERN Control Centre, ATLAS, the SM18 magnet test facility, and ISOLDE; met with Nobel Prize-winning physicist and former director of CERN Carlo Rubbia; and joined in a discussion with CERN’s ConCERNed for Humanity Club founders and guests.[11]

Public Events

Fermi has given Neutron Trail talks in the US, Canada and Europe. On Jan 19, 2012, she gave a talk sponsored by the United Nations Association in Canada titled “Positioning Change and Global Nuclear Disarmament.” She presented personal stories of activists, images and timelines of individuals championing the nuclear disarmament movement.[12]

A TEDx Transmedia Talk in Rome on September 30, 2011 entitled “Becoming the Inspiration We Seek – The Alchemy of Opposites.”[13] is about the power of embracing contradictions, especially those inherent in our nuclear legacy, such as the thrill of discovery commingled with the pride and shame of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. It includes a photograph of her grandfather Enrico Fermi, with physicist Edward Teller, holding an image of the Hiroshima bomb cloud.

On March 21, 2011, BBC World Radio contacted Fermi to give an interview regarding the crisis — then taking place — at the Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. During the five-minute interview, she spoke about her position on nuclear energy and the Neutron Trail.[14] On April 15, 2011, Olivia was the keynote speaker for the Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals of Western Canada’s inaugural meeting. This Neutron Trail talk was about her grandparents’ lives with personal anecdotes and archival images. During the question and answer period, she offered her opinions on the Fukushima Daiichi disaster: “Today we need nuclear power, and the challenge is to make it safe.”[15]

Early and Continuing Supporters

Jerome Isaac Friedman: “The story of the Neutron Trail recounts some of the most significant events of the 20th Century. Olivia Fermi, the granddaughter of the central figure in unleashing the energy of the atom, tells a story that touches on remarkable achievement and triumph, but also on destruction and the continuing threat to human society”.[16] Peter Lax is another early supporter of the Neutron Trail. An Abel Prize winner, he was Enrico’s tennis partner at Los Alamos after World War II.

External links

  • Official Website
  • Fermi Effect Website


  1. ^ Emily Barca, “Olivia Fermi discusses her family’s nuclear legacy on the Neutron Trail”, ‘’Vancouver Observer’’, 12 November 2010
  2. ^ Olivia Fermi, “Nuclear energy still looking good for climate change reduction post–Fukushima”, ‘’Vancouver Observer’’, 20 March 2012
  3. ^ Dan Damon, “BBC World Radio Interview”, 21 March 2011
  4. ^ “Adult New York Times Best Seller Listings”, ‘’Hawes Publications’’, 21 November 1954
  5. ^ “Adult New York Times Best Seller Listings”, ‘’Hawes Publications’’, 6 February 1955
  6. ^ Roger Snodgrass, “Fermi Descendant Visits for Filming”, “The Los Alamos Monitor Online”, 4 April 2009
  7. ^ Douglas Britt, “Artist Explores Human Consciousness”, ‘’Houston Chronicle’’, 12 January 2010
  8. ^ Roger Snodgrass,“Fermi Descendant Visits for Filming”, ‘’The Los Alamos Monitor Online’’, 4 April 2009
  9. ^ “Centro Fermi”, ‘’Ministero dell’Interno d’Italia’’, 23 April 2012
  10. ^ Anaïs Schaeffer,“A F(e)rmidable Family” ‘’The Bulletin’’, 24 October 2011
  11. ^ Anaïs Schaeffer,“A F(e)rmidable Family” ‘’The Bulletin’’, 24 October 2011
  12. ^ “On the Neutron Trail: Positioning Change and Global Nuclear Disarmament”, ‘’United Nations Association –Vancouver’’, 23 January 2012
  13. ^ “TEDxTransmedia 2011 – Olivia Fermi – Becoming the inspiration we seek”, ‘’TEDx YouTube Channel’’, 18 October 2011
  14. ^ Dan Damon, “BBC World Radio Interview”, 21 March 2011
  15. ^ Nigel S. Lockyer, “Quantum Diaries”, 15 April 2011
  16. ^ “Neutron Trail website”