Ettore Majorana was alive in Venezuela up to the late Fifties.

This is a story that reads like a Hollywood movie but which has been solved using modern scientific methods after a lead offered during a popular TV hqdefault[1]program called as “Who has seen him?” A format common to several countries and dedicated to the research of missing persons. In 2008 a man named Roberto Fasani called, speaking to the presenter and claiming to possess key information about Ettore Majorana, a famous Italian physicist who had mysteriously disappeared in 1938. The callers claimed to have left Italy in 1955 for Caracas, Venezuela, and then proceeded to Valencia, were he met a Sicilian friend called Cyrus who introduced to him a certain Mr. Bini. That white-haired gentleman looked like a prince to him: shy, living modestly and always sporting a sad air. He had a slight Roman accent but he was not Roman and he struck Fasani for his habit of keeping his wristwatch over, not under, the cuff of his shirt: then a common thing in Italy among the high class and the nobility – Majorana’s grandfather had been minister of Agriculture under Prime Minister Giolitti. Another man, called Carlo, later told Fasani: “You don’t know who he really his, he has a great head and his real name is Majorana.” He was not well off, as he seemed to possess only little money to pay for the gasoline of his car. In his car, a yellow Studebaker which he loved greatly, he was keeping folds of papers full of numbers and words which he was scribbling on. Fasani even spotted among those papers a postcard dated 1920 written by Ettore Majorana’s uncle, the physicist Quirino Majorana. Roberto Fasani added that it was not easy to convince Mr. Bini to have a photo taken but once, when he had asked him to borrow 150 bolivars, he convinced him to have in exchange of a photo together. Mr. Bini relented and the photo was taken, Fasani then thought to have lost it but it had appeared several years later and that was the reason why he was calling. He had a proof to back his claim!

After that TV program the Italian police decided to reopen that cold case and, basing on that photo, crossed with the image of Ettore Majorana’s existing photos and those of his father – a work carried out by the forensic section of the Italian police – on February 4, 2015 Rome Attorney’s Office, presided by judge Pierfilippo Laviani ruled that Majorana was still alive between 1955 and 1959. And he was living in Valencia, Venezuela, where he took the new surname of Bini. These last findings made the Judge declare the case officially closed, having found no criminal evidence related to his disappearance, which was probably due to his personal choice.

But who was Ettore Majorana?

Here is what his friend, Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi, said of him soon after he went missing:

There are several categories of scientists in the world; those of second or third rank do their best but never get very far. Then there is the first rank: those who make important discoveries, fundamental to scientific progress. But then there are the geniuses, like Galilei and Newton. Majorana did belong to the last category.

Ettore Majorana was born in Catania, Sicily, in 1906 into a rich family. As a child he was mathematically gifted, and when young he had majorana-vivo-venezuela[1]joined Enrico Fermi’s team and became on the Panisperna Street Boys. This name derives from the street address where they set up their laboratory, close to the Coliseum, in Rome. He then earned a degree in physics at the University La Sapienza of Rome in 1929 and in 1932 he published a paper on atomic spectroscopy concerning the behaviour of aligned atoms in time-varying magnetic fields. This problem, also studied by Rabi and others, led to an important sub-branch of atomic physics, that of radio-frequency spectroscopy. At Fermi’s urging, Majorana left Italy early in 1933 with a grant from the National Research Council. In Leipzig, Germany, he met and worked with Werner Heisenberg, and during that same year, Majorana published a study on a relativistic theory of particles with arbitrary intrinsic momentum, in which he developed and applied infinite dimensional representation and gave a theoretical basis for the mass spectrum of elementary particles. Like most of Majorana’s papers in Italian, it languished in relative obscurity for several decades. Today the Majorana Equation and the Majorana Fermions are named after him even if he was known for never seeking credit for his discoveries, considering them just banal and worthless things. He had published only nine papers during his lifetime and left several unpublished papers.

By the end of 1933 he was back in Rome and in poor health, apparently suffering from nervous exhaustion. Putting up a strict diet he grew reclusive and severed all dealings with his family. We know that he loved to read Shakespeare in English and he was appearing at the University less frequently, for four years he scarcely left his home: the promising physicist had become a hermit!

On March 25, 1938 he left a note to Antonio Carrelli, Director of the Naples Physics Institute, asking to be remembered to his colleagues and saying that he had made an unavoidable decision and apologizing for the inconvenience that his disappearance would cause. This was followed by a telegram cancelling his earlier plans. He apparently bought a boat ticket from Palermo to Naples and was never seen again. After his disappearance at sea and despite several investigations, his fate remained uncertain because his body was never found. His friends and fellow scientists, like Amaldi and Segre, were sure he had committed suicide, even if he had apparently withdraw all of his money from his bank account prior to his fateful trip to Naples on March 26, 1938. Other thought that he may have defected to the Soviet Union, like in 1950 his colleague Bruno Pontecorvo, or that he may have become a monk. Even Benito Mussolini had personally put up a large money prize to find a solution of this riddle which was solved only last week.

We don’t know his motives for moving to Argentina and then to Venezuela but one historical coincidence which historians seem to have missed when dealing with Majorana’s disappearance is that on March 11-12 Adolf Hitler had occupied Austria, in what became known as the Anschluss. This was a shocking event for Italy and for the Fascist regime. Even Mussolini must have by then realised that he had created a monster and the monster was right at the border with Italy. Mussolini ordered to some infantry divisions to move close to the Austrian border but with France and Great Britain doing nothing and accepting the status quo he must had thought than no other option was left open to him but to try to get even closer to Hitler. These events could have shocked Majorana too for he must have thought that it was a game over for old Europe.

Perhaps with the collaboration of the Venezuelan government it could be possible to locate the grave of Mr. Bini and, if he had any relative left in Venezuela, his papers could be found stored somewhere in Valencia.

 

 

 

SCIENCE FOCUS

Science Focus: Italy closes case on physician’s mysterious disappearance

Prosecutor rules that physicist who vanished in 1938 was spotted in Venezuela two decades later

 

Ettore Majorana disappeared.Early this month, the judiciary in Italy officially closed the file on Ettore Majorana, whose sudden disappearance in 1938 marked one of the great mysteries in 20th century physics.

On February 4, Rome prosecutor Pierfilippo Laviani ruled that Majorana was still alive between 1955 and 1959 and was living in Valencia, Venezuela, under the assumed surname of Bini. Laviani declared the case closed, having found no criminal evidence in his disappearance.

Ettore Majorana was one of the greatest but least known 20th century physicists. Today his work is often cited alongside that of his friend, Enrico Fermi, who won the Nobel Prize for physics.

Fermi, one of the creators of modern physics and the atom bomb, said of his friend: “There are several categories of scientists in the world; those of second or third rank do their best but never get very far.

“Then there is the first rank: those who make important discoveries, fundamental to scientific progress. But then there are the geniuses, like Galilei and Newton. Majorana did belong to the last category.”

No one really knew what happened to Majorana in 1938 after he turned reclusive and then disappeared. Theories ranged from suicide to defection to the Soviet Union.

But a clue surfaced some seven years ago thanks to a popular Italian television show.

Who has seen him? follows a missing-persons format common in several countries. In 2008, Roberto Fasani called the show and claimed to have key information about Majorana.

He said he had left Italy in 1955 for Caracas, Venezuela, and then proceeded to Valencia, were he met a Sicilian friend who introduced to him a Mr Bini. That white-haired gentleman looked like an aristocrat, Fasani said. But he was shy, living modestly and had a melancholy air.

Someone told Fasani the man’s real name was Majorana. The camera-shy mystery man allowed himself to be photographed once. Fasani thought he had lost the photo but later retrieved it, he said, and that was why he was calling the TV show. Italian police reopened the case shortly afterwards.

Majorana was born in Catania, Sicily, in 1906 into a middle-class family. As a child he was mathematically gifted, and when young he had joined Fermi’s team. He earned a degree in physics at the University La Sapienza of Rome in 1929, and in 1932 he published a paper on atomic spectroscopy concerning the behaviour of aligned atoms in magnetic fields. This problem led to an important sub-branch of atomic physics: radio-frequency spectroscopy.

At Fermi’s urging, Majorana left Italy early in 1933 with a grant from the National Research Council. In Leipzig, Germany, he met and worked with Werner Heisenberg, and during that same year Majorana published a study on a relativistic theory of particles with arbitrary intrinsic momentum.

With this work, he developed a theoretical basis for the mass spectrum of elementary particles.

Like most of Majorana’s papers written in Italian, it languished in relative obscurity for several decades. But today the Majorana Equation and the Majorana Fermions are named after him. The equation is consistent with quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity.

This small output was enough to establish him as a giant of 20th century physics.

By the end of 1933 Majorana was back in Rome and in poor health, apparently suffering from nervous exhaustion. He grew reclusive and severed all dealings with his family. He loved reading Shakespeare in English. For four years he scarcely left his home.

On March 25, 1938 he left a note to Antonio Carrelli, Director of the Naples Physics Institute, asking to be remembered to his colleagues and saying that he had made an unavoidable decision and apologising for the inconvenience that his disappearance would cause.

This was followed by a telegram cancelling his earlier plans. He apparently bought a boat ticket from Palermo to Naples and was never seen again by his family and friends.

Angelo Paratico is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Italy closes case on scientist’s mysterious disappearance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Un commento su “Ettore Majorana was alive in Venezuela up to the late Fifties.

  1. Gentile dottor Paratico, affascinante articolo su uno dei tanti misteri italiani, la ringrazio. Ma rimango scettico sulla capacità della nostra magistratura investigativa di chiudere un caso sulla base di prove tecniche così aleatorie come il confronto di due foto. E mi insospettisce, in un mondo dove non si chiude mai un caso prima di svariati anni, e spesso mai, questa fretta di dichiarare cosa sia successo al grande Majorana sulla base di semplici riscontri indiziari, e di chiudere la discussione. Non escludo niente, anche che Majorana sia davvero fuggito in Sudamerica, perche no? ma questa indagine mi pare che alimenti i dubbi e il mistero, non viceversa. La saluto cordialmente. La leggo sempre su La Nostra Storia.

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