The curious case of the disappearing physicist

If you work in particle physics, cosmology or condensed matter, you’ll probably be familiar with the name Majorana, as in Majorana fermions and Majorana neutrinos.

But Ettore Majorana is famous for another reason. As one of the leading lights of theoretical physics in the 1930s, he made important contributions to nuclear, atomic and molecular physics as well as quantum electrodynamics and relativity. But on 26 March 1938, his career was cut short when he disappeared in mysterious circumstances in Naples and was never heard from again.

“On Friday March 25, 1938 Majorana went to the Institute of Physics and handed over the lecture notes and some other papers to one of his students. After that, he returned to his hotel and, after writing farewell letters to his family and to the director of the Institute of Physics, Carrelli, apparently embarked on a ship to Palermo. He reached his destination the following morning, where he lodged for a short time in the Grand Hotel Sole. It was there that he wrote a telegram and a letter to Carrelli pointing out a change of mind about his decisions. On Saturday evening Majorana embarked on a ship from Palermo to Naples. From here onwards, no other reliable information about him are available. “

So writes Salvatore Esposito from the University of Naple in Italy in a retrospective of Majorana’s life and work, posted on the arXiv on the 70th anniversary of his disappearance.

Nobody knows what happened to Marjorana but there is no shortage of theories including a retreat in a monastery, a flight to a foreign country and most likely suicide for which there is some circumstantial evidence. We will almost certainly never know for sure.

Good topic for a Hollywood movie, I’d say.

Ref: Ettore Majorana and his Heritage Seventy Years Later

One Response to “The curious case of the disappearing physicist”

  1. tribute2m says:

    Fermi said about him, he was a class number 3 aka GENIUS !