Ettore Majorana’s fame

“In January 1938, after having just graduated, I was invited, essentially by you, to come to the Institute of Physics at the University in Rome for six months as a teaching assistant [...].

“It was actually while I was staying with Fermi in the small laboratory on the second floor [...] that Ettore Majorana came in search of Fermi. I was introduced to him and we exchanged few words. A dark face. And that was it. An easily forgettable experience if, after a few weeks while I was still with Fermi in that same workshop, news of Ettore Majorana’s disappearance in Naples had not arrived. I remember that Fermi busied himself with telephoning around until, after some days, he had the impression that Ettore would never be found.

“It was then that Fermi, trying to make me understand the significance of this loss, expressed himself in quite a peculiar way; he who was so objectively harsh when judging people. And so, at this point, I would like to repeat his words, just as I can still hear them ringing in my memory: ‘Because, you see, in the world there are various categories of scientists: people of a secondary or tertiary standing, who do their best but do not go very far. There are also those of high standing, who come to discoveries of great importance, fundamental for the development of science’ (and here I had the impression that he placed himself in that category). ‘But then there are geniuses like Galileo and Newton. Well, Ettore was one of them. Majorana had what no one else in the world had [...]’”

Ettore Majorana’s fame solidly rests on testimonies like this one from the recollections by the experimental physicist Giuseppe Cocconi, at the request of Edoardo Amaldi (July 18, 1965).

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