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    Ettore Majorana: The Mystery Might Be Solved
    By Tommaso Dorigo | June 8th 2011 03:32 PM | 28 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    Ettore Majorana was maybe the most brilliant student of Enrico Fermi, and an outstanding physicist. He disappeared on March 25th 1938 at the age of 32 years, under mysterious circumstances and leaving no trace behind. The hypothesis that he committed suicide appears weak in the face of his withdrawing a conspicuous amount of money from his bank on the eve of his disappearance -he had a rational mind and such an action would have made little sense. Other hypotheses include an escape to Argentina, and even a collaboration with the third reich in Germany, where he had previously worked -Majorana had expressed anti-jew ideas in the past.

    Now, seventy years after his disappearance, the mystery might be solved. A picture has emerged which might portray him in the company of an italian acquaintance, who in 2008 called an Italian TV show, "Chi l'ha visto" (Who saw him). The caller reported of having met Majorana in 1955 in Caracas, where he was introduced to him by a friend who had met Majorana first in Argentina. The mysterious man's name was allegedly "Bini", but the caller's acquaintance had clarified that he was in fact the famous Italian physicist. Here is a transcript of the witness:

    "Sono partito per il Venezuela perché non andavo d'accordo con mio padre, era l'aprile del 1955. Arrivato a Caracas, sono andato a Valencia con Ciro, un mio amico siciliano, che mi presentò un certo Bini. Ho collegato Bini e Majorana grazie al signor Carlo, un argentino. Mi disse: "Ma lo sai chi è quello? Quello è uno scienziato. Quello ha una capoccia grande che tu neanche ti immagini. Quello è il signor Majorana". Si erano conosciuti in Argentina. Era di media altezza, con i capelli bianchi, pochi e ondulati. Capelli bianchi di chi aveva avuto i capelli neri. E si vedeva dal fatto che portava sempre l'orologio sopra la camicia e per lavarsi le mani si apriva le maniche della camicia e aveva i peli neri. Era timido, preferiva stare in silenzio e se lo invitavi al night non veniva. Poteva avere sui 50 - 55 anni. Parlava romano ma si vedeva che non era romano. Si vedeva anche che era una persona colta. Sembrava un principe. Io certe volte gli dicevo: "Ma che cavolo campi a fa. Ti vedo sempre triste". Lui diceva che lavorava, andavamo a mangiare, poi stava 10-15 giorni senza farsi sentire. Aveva una macchina gialla una Studebacker. Pagava solo la benzina, altrimenti sembrava che non avesse mai una lira. Ogni tanto gli dicevo: "Ci tieni tanto alla tua macchina e c'hai tutta sta carta". Erano fogli con numeri e virgole, sbarramenti. Lui non voleva mai farsi fotografare e siccome dovevo prestargli 150 bolivar gli ho fatto una specie di ricatto, in cambio gli ho chiesto di farsi fare una foto con me per mandarla alla mia famiglia. Era più basso di me. Quando ho trovato la foto ho deciso di parlare, sennò era inutile che dicevo che avevo conosciuto Majorana."

    My quick-and-dirty translation:

    I left to Venezuela because of disagreements with my father in April 1955. Once in Caracas, I went to Valencia with Ciro, a Sicilian friend, who presented me to a mr. Bini. I connected Bini to Majorana thanks to Carlo, an Argentinian. He said "Do you realize who that guy is ? He's a scientist. He's got a brain you can't imagine. He is mr. Majorana". They had met in Argentina. He was of average height, with white hair, few and wavy. The white hair of a man who was once black-haired. One could see it from the fact that he wore his watch over his shirt, so to wash his hands he opened his sleeves and black hair could be seen. He was shy, often silent, and if you invited him to a night club he wouldn't come. He might have been 50-55 years old. He had a roman accent but one could see he was not. One could also see he was well-learned. He looked like a prince. I sometimes told him "What the hell do you live for ? You are always sad". He said he worked, we dined together, then he would disappear for 10-15 days. He had a yellow Studebacker. He only paid for the gas, otherwise he looked always penniless. Sometimes I used to tell him "You care so much for this car and have all these papers". These were sheets with numbers and commas, bars. He never wanted to be photographed, and since I once had to lend him 150 bolivars, I sort of blackmailed him, I asked him to get a picture of him to send it to my family. He was shorter than I was. When I found the picture I decided to speak, otherwise it was useless for me to say I had known Majorana."

    The picture has now been studied with care by investigators, and it has been found to match extraordinarily well with existing pictures of Majorana, plus to carry a lot of similarities with somatic traits of Majorana's father. It thus seems possible to hope to locate his remains, although the task is of course not going to be easy.

    If you wonder what Majorana did to particle physics in the thirties: he gave important contributions to atomic physics and to weak interactions. Nowadays, his name appears often in works about neutrinos, which might in truth be proven to be Majorana particles -i.e., particles that are their own antibodies, and that satisfy the Majorana equation. A number of experiments are currently trying to find a signal of double beta decay -a transmutation of nuclei which does not involve neutrino emission: such a reaction would imply that neutrinos are indeed Mayorana bodies.

    It would be so nice if in the near future we both found out that the real nature of neutrinos is the one hypothesized by Ettore Majorana, and also find where his remains are buried!

    Comments

    But why would Majorana decide to disappear to South America -- what was / would have been his motivation?

    (One could clearly add a corny joke about him oscillating to a different state, but thankfully I won't. :)

    World War II was imminent when he left. He may have decided that being compelled to be a war scientist on potentially genocidally dangerous weapons, rather than devoting himself to politics free research wasn't worth his soul, or that a war simply left him too likely to be killed. After the war, he may have feared Nazi hunters (perhaps he developed close relationships with less pure German exiles) or perhaps he floundered scientifically as Einstein did in his later years and wanted to be remembered leaving the field while he was ahead rather than re-emerging with little to show for his efforts.

    This was shortly after he published his equation describing particles which are their own antiparticles. Perhaps he encountered his twin and both vanished :_>

    Perhaps he found the arrogance, shallowness and hero worship of a dying culture rather nauseating.

    Actually it sounds like he was quite content with the inner workings of his mind and did not want to be interrupted for such trivial pursuits as monetary gain, social relationships and societal pressures, kind of makes one wonder what he was able to produce in his later years and where his papers are, and if they still exist.(if of course the source is valid)

    Ettore Majorana's work in physics would probably have been sufficiently distinctive on its face that it would be hard to pass of his original work as the work of anyone other than a close disciple of his prior to his disappearance without arousing serious suspicion, especially as the quantum physics world of the post-war era was close knit enough that almost every published article would have people who personally knew and interacted with each other on the peer review panels.

    He could have emerged in some other discipline, but this account suggests that he was still doing theoretical physics in South America in the 1950s.

    Doing that kind of work alone and apart from experimentalists and fellow theorists puts you at a serious disadvantage. He doesn't seem to have made a breakthough in the mid-1950s, and the development of the Standard Model may have stolen his thunder on lots of stuff he was working on himself but didn't have the resources to push as fast as the groups that did managed to. I wouldn't be surprised to see a very non-canonical but accurate and logical approach in his pre-Standard Model writings to his desk drawer that have some novel and as yet unpublished insights on some fairly minor points (perhaps a physicists equivalent to a shorter and cleaner proof of the Pythagorean theorem, or proof of a theorem that was not known but also isn't very useful in practice. But, I'd be stunned if there was a major unpublished discovery in his papers.

    I find the neutrino one of the most fascinating, if not the most, of the whole zoo.
    Its a pity that the majorana representation is so much overlooked in today's teaching.

    Did he move to Germany in 1938 then? But why would he need to disappear? Wasn't Italy on very good terms with Germany at the time?

    dorigo
    No, he had gone to Germany earlier. I think the man really wanted to disappear, although the reason of this decision is highly controversial. Books have been written on the matter...

    Cheers,
    T.
    Hi Tommaso

    the Argentina-story has been evoked several times befor. Maybe it is worth reading
    http://www.amazon.de/Brilliant-Darkness-Extraordinary-Disappearance-Majo...
    chapter 24

    But nevermind, I love your blogs.

    Peter

    Has the picture appeared somewhere?

    There had been a similar claim just a few months ago, based on a picture that the "experts" considered strikingly resembling, according to some algorithm:
    http://download.repubblica.it/pdf/domenica/2010/17102010.pdf
    But the expert's opinion had been totally destroyed, convincingly in my view, with just the use of simple tools, by Majorana's nephew:
    http://www.roma1.infn.it/people/majorana/Ubi%20major/riconoscimento.pdf
    So I hope that these experts are not the same experts :)

    dorigo
    This appears to be a picture in the company of an italian fellow, not one in the company of a Nazi criminal (Eichmann). So I guess it is another one, and to the study of the pictures one may add the direct report of the man who allegedly met him in Venezuela. I do not know much about the whole story, and knowing how sloppy our newspapers are I am willing to remain sceptical, but nevertheless the story appears credible IMO.

    Cheers,
    T.
    Yes, from the text you quote it is clear to me that it is not the same picture. I am curious to see the new picture, though. It would be thrilling to discover the end of this story!

    well, a myth no longer remains a myth if the hard facts begin to dawn on you. Lets hope the saint of scientific culture will not have to be demoted.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    'It would be so nice if in the near future we both found out that the real nature of neutrinos is the one hypothesized by Ettore Majorana, and also find where his remains are buried!'

    Yes, it would be nice.

    "What the hell do you live for? You are always sad".

    It also looks as though Majorana might have been suffering from serious depression with little support from these friends and acquaintances.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Tomasso, are you familiar with the works of João Magueijo, regarding Ettore's disappearance?

    It was 1938 and Majorana knew a lot about nuclear fission (since Fermi's discovery of nuclear fission in 1938 producing "Ausonium" and "Hesperium") since he was very close to Enrico Fermi.

    A close friend to Enrico Fermi, yes - but also very close to Werner Heisenberg in Germany. But Enrico might have had some considerations to this friendship.

    Fermi:
    "There are many categories of scientists, people of second and third rank, who do their best, but do not go very far. There are also people of first class, who make great discoveries, which are of capital importance for the development of science. But then there are the geniuses, like Galileo and Newton. Well, Ettore was one of these. Majorana had greater gifts than anyone else in the world; UNFORTUNATELY he lacked one quality that other men generally have: PLAIN COMMON SENSE."

    Why would Fermi react like that?

    Vladimir Kalitvianski
    Maybe Ettore Majorana, as a genius, was above the plane common sense? What we consider as normal and going without saying might be evidently wrong to a genius. Do you wear a tie and a hat?
    dorigo
    Hi Hannes,

    no, I have not read much about Majorana's disappearance... However I did know the quote you mention.

    Best,
    T.
    The best way to summarize things is - " If he chooses to disappear, we shall never find him. " - Fermi

    Neutrinos are their own antibodies???? Feel free to delete this comment when you're done with it.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Neutrinos are their own antibodies????
    Coincidentally, it was announced this week that Scientists find the long sought Majorana Particle!
    Scientists at TU Delft's Kavli Institute and the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM Foundation) have succeeded for the first time in detecting a Majorana particle. In the 1930s, the brilliant Italian physicist Ettore Majorana deduced from quantum theory the possibility of the existence of a very special particle, a particle that is its own anti-particle: the Majorana fermion. That 'Majorana' would be right on the border between matter and anti-matter.

    ...For the first time, scientists in Leo Kouwenhoven's research group managed to create a nanoscale electronic device in which a pair of Majorana fermions 'appear' at either end of a nanowire. They did this by combining an extremely small nanowire, made by colleagues from Eindhoven University of Technology, with a superconducting material and a strong magnetic field. "The measurements of the particle at the ends of the nanowire cannot otherwise be explained than through the presence of a pair of Majorana fermions," says Leo Kouwenhoven.

    ...The Italian physicist Ettore Majorana was a brilliant theorist who showed great insight into physics at a young age. He discovered a hitherto unknown solution to the equations from which quantum scientists deduce elementary particles: the Majorana fermion. Practically all theoretic particles that are predicted by quantum theory have been found in the last decades, with just a few exceptions, including the enigmatic Majorana particle and the well-known Higgs boson.
    Now that they have found the Majorana particle maybe they will find evidence of Majorana too?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    There are several such articles on the web all copying each others' mistakes. In short, they have not found the Majorana particle. They have produced Majorana quasiparticles which are not particles at all but tiny disturbances amongst the crowd (or "sea") of ordinary electrons in ordinary matter. Much less dramatic.

    Wikipedia explains:
    It is important to note that the solid state manifestations of Majorana fermions are emergent low-energy localized modes of the system (quasiparticles) which are not fundamental new elementary particles as originally envisioned by Majorana (or as the neutrino would be if it turns out to be a Majorana fermion)...  The terminology "Majorana fermion" is thus not a good nomenclature for these solid state Majorana modes.
     
    Anyway I was just pointing out a typo to Tomasso -  my guess is that his spell checker got out of hand.  Neutrinos may be their own antiparticles.  Antibodies are part of the immune system! 
     

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Funny, Wikipedia's article on Ettore Majorana says :-
    Ettore Majorana (Italian pronunciation: [ˈɛttore mayoˈraːna]; born August 1906; missing, presumed dead on 27 March 1938) was an Italian theoretical physicist who worked on neutrino masses. He disappeared suddenly under mysterious circumstances while going by ship from Palermo to Naples. The Majorana equation, Majorana fermions, and Majorana particles are named after him.
    But there is no entry in Wikipedia for Majorana particles, explaining what they are hypothetically meant to be. The Majorana equation also references the non-entry about Majorana particles but at least under that equation it says :-
    Particles corresponding to Majorana spinors are aptly called Majorana particles. Such a particle is its own antiparticle. Thus far, of all the fermions included in the Standard Model, none is described as a Majorana fermion. However, there is the possibility that the neutrino is of a Majorana nature. If so, neutrinoless double-beta decay is possible. A number of experiments probing if the neutrino is a Majorana particle are currently underway.
    Then under Wiki's neutrinoless double-beta decay it also links to the Majorana particles non-entry when describing :-
    The processes described in the previous section are also known as two-neutrino double-beta decay, as two neutrinos (or antineutrinos) are emitted. If the neutrino is a Majorana particle (meaning that the antineutrino and the neutrino are actually the same particle), and at least one type of neutrino has non-zero mass (which has been established by the neutrino oscillation experiments), then it is possible for neutrinoless double-beta decay to occur. In the simplest theoretical treatment of neutrinoless double-beta decay (light neutrino exchange), in essence the two neutrinos annihilate each other, or equivalently, one nucleon absorbs the neutrino emitted by another nucleon of the nucleus.
    How could you prove that a neutrino was a Majorana particle in this kind of experiment and why doesn't Wikipedia have a straightforward entry for Majorana particles, when this non-existent Wikipedia article is being linked to all over the place?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    dorigo
    My English is not perfect Derek... And although I thank you for the correction, on old posts such as this one I am reluctant to change the text. Let's leave it there as a reminder.
    Cheers,
    T.
    Looks like the Wiki page URL has been changed to the singular "particle".
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Derek, Wikipedia makes references and links to both a non-existent 'Majorana particle' and non-existent 'Majorana particles'. It seems to me that Majorana particles may simply be Majorana fermions but for some reason many people and articles talk about them as being distinct from each other. Wiki also says that the hypothetical neutralino of supersymmetric models is a Majorana fermion, then there are also these Majorana quasiparticles ;-
    In superconducting materials, Majorana fermions can emerge as (non-fundamental) quasiparticles. The superconductor imposes electron hole symmetry on the quasiparticle excitations, relating the creation operator γ(E) at energy E to the annihilation operator γ(−E) at energy −E. At the Fermi level E=0, one has γ=γ so the excitation is a Majorana fermion. Since the Fermi level is in the middle of the superconducting gap, these are midgap states. A quantum vortex in certain superconductors or superfluids can trap midgap states, so this is one source of Majorana fermions
    You sounded very confident that the article I linked to above, claiming that they had finally found the Majoranan particle after all this time was wrong and that they were just Majorana quasiparticles, so I was hoping you could explain the difference between Majorana particles, Majorana fermions and Majorana quasiparticles and why there is no Wiki entry for either 'Majorana particle' or 'Majorana particles' when they are also often being referenced and linked to, even by Tommaso in this article?

    There is another article in Trapit here also claiming to have found the Majorana particle in which they talk about the Majorana particle being both a Majorana fermion, a quasiparticle and also a mysterious particle!


    An elusive particle that is its own antiparticle may have been found, and, if confirmed, would be the first time a phenomenon predicted decades ago has been seen in a real system. Some researchers suggest that in the future, this mysterious particle called a Majorana fermion could be useful in carrying bits of information in quantum computers.

    In a paper published in the journal Science Thursday, Vincent Mourikand Leo P. Kouwenhoven said they were able to make the Majorana fermions appear by exposing a small circuit to a magnetic field.

    Until now, the only suggestion of the particle's existence was a theory posed by Italian physicist Ettore Majorana in 1937, who predicted the Majorana fermion. [Infographic: Nature's Tiniest Particles Dissected]

    Elementary particles come in two types: fermions and bosons. Fermions are particles such as electrons, leptons and quarks (which themselves make up protons and neutrons). Fermions make up matter and obey the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which says two particles can't be in the same quantum state at the same time. (This is why two protons or neutrons, for instance, can't be in the same place at once). Bosons are things such as photons and W particles, which carry forces.

    Majorana fermions are so special because they are different from other fermions, which have antiparticles — particles that have the same mass but opposite charge. An electron is negatively charged, and its antiparticle is a positron. When a particle such as an electron comes into contact with its antiparticle (in this case, a positron), the two annihilate, turning into energetic photons in this example.

    Bosons, however, are particles that are their own antiparticle, and they don't annihilate when they touch each other. Majorana fermions are like photons in that respect, as they act as their own antiparticles. But unlike photons, Majoranas will still annihilate when they meet their antimatter cousins. (Neutrinos may also be like this, but it is not clear yet and is an active area of research).

    In addition, unlike more conventional particles, Majoranas are "quasiparticles," which arise from the collective properties of a material. This happens in more ordinary areas as well; for example, in solid-state electronics, electrons carry negative charges, while they leave behind "holes" with a positive charge; these holes behave just like real particles, even though they appear only because of the behavior of electrons.

    Making Majoranas

    To try to create the mysterious particles, the team set up an experiment that involved the collective behavior of particles. For the experiment, they used nanowires, which are able to produce such quasiparticles when they are placed under the influence of a magnetic field. The results showed a tell-tale sign of the Majorana particles having been produced — a certain peak in conductivity.

    While it isn't a definite find, Kouwenhoven said he thinks the evidence is pretty strong. That's partly because he gave a talk at the American Physical Society meeting in February, where he said he might have found the Majoranas. Since then, and in response to a lot of questions from others in the field, he came up with several tests to make sure he got it right.


    Now they are talking about a family of 'Majoranas', all rather confusing! Can you or someone else who understands the differences please shed some light here? Is it possible that Wiki for the public is maybe being left behind or becoming pretty obsolete, because physicists at CERN for example might be preferring to use Twiki for their own private use and collaboration?

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    I know next to nothing about them except they exist - in theory. Still, total ignorance has never inhibited me before so here goes.

    1  I have already told you - what's been produced are not fundamental particles, they are quasiparticles, little swirls in the crowd of electrons in a solid piece of wire that try to fall out of the ends.  It's not particle physics, it's solid state physics. Big deal.

    2  Marjorana particles are, by definition, fermions. 

    3  Wiki redirects. No mystery.

    4  I do not know what a "mysterious particle" is! There's no mystery about creating quasi-particles. What's unknown is whether neutrinos are Majorana particles/fermions. If it was all that dramatic it would have been found out by now.

    5  Forget supersymmetric partners. Supersymmetry is a speculative theory at best; particles that are hypothetical within a speculative theory are not worth talking about.

    6  As far as I know, there are no significant implications from this experiment. Of course, like everything else, it is the wonder toy that will make quantum computing possible - a couple of years ago it was molecules of caffeine that would provide infinite computing power. 
     
    Honestly, I can't imagine why you're even interested. If you think something big is implied by it all, why not ask directly instead of pasting reams of stuff written by Reeter Skeeter and expecting me to deconstruct it.

    Alpha Crab has spoken.