Fermi Gym

Contributors: Open to all.
Discord Channel: #fermi-gym

How many trees are there on Earth? What is the weight of the atmosphere? How tall can a mountain be? What is the total length of DNA in a human cell? Questions like this are perfect fodder for the art of Fermi estimation, the cultivated skill of posing and answering arbitrary quantitative questions using a variety of rough and ready estimation, assumption, and approximation techniques, informed guesswork, tasteful googling, and high-school mathematics. The art is named for physicist Enrico Fermi, who was famously skilled at it. A good introductory text is The Art of Estimation in Science and Engineering by Sanjoy Mahajan (recommended, but not required reading if you’d like to join us).

The Fermi Gym at the Yak Collective is an ongoing activity in our Discord (in the #fermi-gym channel) where we take turns posing weekly Fermi estimation problems for each other. The goal is to steadily improve our skills, and develop a better, and more quantitative appreciation for the universe we live in. The group grew out of a series of video sessions conducted by James Giamonna in early 2022. The format is mostly based on asynchronous discussion (including use of a Discord bot to manage the actual problem solving), but with periodic video calls (approximately once every 2 months) to review recent gym sessions and prepare for future problem-solving themes. Join the Yak Collective and drop by the #fermi-gym channel in our Discord to learn more and join in.