The Via Panisperna boys (Italian: I ragazzi di Via Panisperna) were a group of young scientists led by Enrico Fermi. In Rome in 1934, they made the famous discovery of slow neutrons which later made possible the nuclear reactor, and then the construction of the first atomic bomb.
The nickname of the group comes from the address of the Physics Institute, at the University of Rome La Sapienza. The Via Panisperna, a street of Rione Monti in the city center, got its name from a nearby monastery, San Lorenzo in Panisperna.
The other members of the group were Edoardo Amaldi, Oscar D'Agostino, Ettore Majorana, Bruno Pontecorvo, Franco Rasetti and Emilio Segrè. All of them were physicists, except for D'Agostino who was a chemist.
The group grew under the supervision of the physicist, minister, senator and director of the Institute of physics Orso Mario Corbino. Corbino recognized the qualities of Enrico Fermi and led the commission who appointed him in 1926 as professor of one of the three first Chairs of Theoretical Physics in Italy. From 1929, Fermi and Corbino dedicated themselves to the transformation of the institute into a modern research centre.
The first version of their research laboratory was mainly dedicated to atomic and molecular spectroscopy; afterwards they moved towards experimental studies of the atomic nucleus. Research included the bombarding of various substances with neutrons, obtained by irradiating beryllium with alpha particles emitted by radon, which is a strongly radioactive gas that renders possible numerous stable artificial radioactive elements. On the theoretical side, the work of Ettore Majorana and Fermi enabled the understanding of the structure of the atomic nucleus and the forces acting in it, known as the Majorana Forces. In 1933 and 1934 they published the fundamental theory of beta decay.
In 1938, because of the general climate in Europe, and in particular in Italy the group dispersed and most of its members emigrated. The head of the group, Prof. Fermi, was also forced to emigrate, since the passing of the Fascist racial laws were damaging his wife, who was Jewish, and his academic career. Fermi left fascist Italy with his family for Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize on 6 December 1938, and from there they reached the U.S. Oscar D'Agostino and Edoardo Amaldi were the only ones who remained in Italy. In the post-war reconstruction of Italian physics, Amaldi contributed significantly to the foundation of CERN.
The building in Via Panisperna, lying on the Viminale hill, is today included in the complex of the Ministry of the Interior. The edifice is planned to host a centre for research and a museum of physics named after Enrico Fermi.