Ettore Majorana

Ettore Majorana was an Italian, born in Catania, Sicily on August 5th, 1906. A theoretical physicist who became famous for his complete reluctance to scientific fame and his mysterious disappearance on march 27th 1938; he was only 32 years old when he presumable died. One of discoveries he became famous for was the eponymous Majorana equation. Young scientist received his undergraduate degree in engineering and his doctorate in physics at the University of Rome. Already in 1932 he published his first paper explaining the behavior of aligned atoms in time-varying magnetic fields. Later the same year he published another paper on a relativistic theory of particles with arbitrary intrinsic momentum in which he presented the basis for the mass spectrum of elementary particles. He was the one who first proposed the existence of neutron: the unknown particle later credited to J. Chadwick who was given the Nobel Prize for it.

Ettore also presented theoretical work on neutrino masses, a popular subject among scientists today, because he believed that mass can have a small shielding effect on gravitational waves, but did not receive much attention with it. He conducted some studies with Werner Heisenberg in Leipzig on a theory of the nucleus which was published in 1933, when Nazis came to power in Germany. His last work presented in Italian in 1937 was an study on a symmetrical theory of electrons and positrons. Ettore Majorana mysteriously disappeared during his boat trip to Naples; his body was never discovered. Despite many investigations, the truth about what happened with him is uncertain. Before he left on a boat trip he withdrew all money from his bank account. He could not have been visiting his old friend in Naples Emilio Segre because Emilio was in US at the time, barred from entering Italy as a Jew by the Mussolini government. Also, prior to disappearing Ettore wrote to the Director of the Naples Physics Institute apologizing for the troubles his disappearance would cause and asking his colleagues to keep him in their memories. He simply purchased a trip to Naples from Palermo and disappeared. Among many memories left by his friends is the one attributed to Giuseppe Cocconi and/or Enrico Fermi: “There are different kinds of scientists, who do their best, but do not reach real heights. There are also people of great level, who come up with great discoveries. But then there are the geniuses, like Galileo and Newton. Well, Ettore was also one of them. He had greater gifts than most of us but unfortunately he lacked one main quality: plain common sense”.
 
 
References: Ettore Majorana, University of Rome.
 

 

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