A misterious disappearance

On Saturday 26 March 1938 the director of the Institute of Physics at the University of Naples in Italy, Antonio Carrelli, received a mysterious telegram. It has been sent the previous day from the Sicilian capital Palermo, and read: “Don’t worry. A letter will follow. Majorana.” That same Saturday, Ettore Majorana – who had just been appointed as full professor of theoretical physics at the university at the age of 31 – had not turned up to give his lecture on Theoretical Physics. By Sunday the promised letter had reached Carrelli. In it Majorana wrote that he had abandoned his suicidal intentions and would return to Naples, but it revealed no hint of where the illustrious physicist might be. The picture was quickly becoming clear: Majorana, who was widely regarded as a genius, had disappeared.

Troubled by the news, Carrelli called his friend Enrico Fermi in Rome, who immediately realized the seriousness of the situation. It was in this occasion that Fermi, who would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics later that year, expressed himself with Cocconi as above in order to give him an idea of the seriousness of the loss to the community of physicists caused by Majorana’s disappearance.

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