Recent news on Ettore Majorana?

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Hi everyone,
I was watching a TV programme the other day, where they talked about an Italian physicist, Ettore Majorana, who disappeared in 1938:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ettore_Majorana

Apparently they've recently found evidence that he lived in Venezuela in the 50's, and that his disappearance was actually a personal choice (rather than more elaborate theories of kidnapping, suicide, retiring to spiritual life in a convent, etc...). Many people are already disputing such evidence as very shaky and biased.

However, in the programme they also mentioned something related to his work as a physicist:
1) that he may have decided to leave because he got 'scared' of the potential applications of some of his discoveries.
2) that he had (reportedly) built a 'machine' that could convert matter into energy, obviously producing enormous amounts of energy at very low cost. They even said that after his disappearance, the machine was inspected by physicists under the guidance of a famous professor (I didn't catch his name, or what the outcome of the inspection was). Then it was never heard of again. The implication was that 'someone' wasn't happy with a virtually infinite source of cheap energy, and made the machine disappear, having already taken care of its inventor.

Question for the physics experts who visit these forums: do you know of any discoveries of his that could have produced catastrophic consequences in the 'wrong' hands? And what do you make of this elusive machine? Is it something at least theoretically possible?

Thanks
L
 

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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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do you know of any discoveries of his that could have produced catastrophic consequences in the 'wrong' hands? And what do you make of this elusive machine? Is it something at least theoretically possible?
No and no.
 
  • #3
russ_watters
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Given the timeframe and description, sounds a lot like nuclear power to me.
 
  • #4
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Sounds like an exciting SciFi novel.
 
  • #5
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Sounds like something you could make trillions out of it. Why would someone make that vanish?

There are conspiracy theories for everything, and few of them are even remotely plausible. Decades of particle physics experiments found nothing that could set free more energy than nuclear reactions (unless you produce antimatter first, but then you don't gain anything). And those mechanisms were known at the time he disappeared.
 
  • #6
epenguin
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Story too simple and conclusive. This case needs Inspector Montalbano on it.
 
  • #7
jim hardy
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This does not sound like a happy guy:

that wiki link said:
Majorana was known for not seeking credit for his discoveries, considering his work to be banal.

On the day of his disappearance, Majorana sent a note to Antonio Carrelli, Director of the Naples Physics Institute:

Dear Carrelli, I made a decision that has become unavoidable. There isn’t a bit of selfishness in it, but I realize what trouble my sudden disappearance will cause you and the students. For this as well, I beg your forgiveness, but especially for betraying the trust, the sincere friendship and the sympathy you gave me over the past months. I ask you to remind me to all those I learned to know and appreciate in your Institute, especially Sciuti: I will keep a fond memory of them all at least until 11 pm tonight, possibly later too. E. Majorana
His paper N.10 introduces the concept of statistics applied to social phenomenon, used by Asimov in his Foundation series... page 55 here
https://books.google.com/books?id=r...BDgK#v=onepage&q=marjorana psychology&f=false

interesting guy
 
  • #8
russ_watters
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Sounds like something you could make trillions out of it. Why would someone make that vanish?
If it was nuclear power, it was worth trillions of dollars, but it didn't vanish.
 
  • #9
Lisa!
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Oh! My favorite physicist!
selfAdjoint posted a paper about him once but it's no longer accessible!:oldcry:
 
  • #10
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Interesting.
They said he was much ahead of his time, so who knows. Maybe the machine exists and it's hidden somewhere so we have to keep buying oil from... or gas from...
OK, maybe not in this case, but let's not be naive. We've all seen what greedy psychopaths are capable of.
unless you produce antimatter first, but then you don't gain anything)
It says here that Majorana particles are their own antiparticle.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majorana_fermion
Note that I know close to nothing about particle physics - but doesn't this mean that this is a particle that gets annihilated in contact with itself? How can it exist then? <insert exploding-head smiley here>
 
  • #11
epenguin
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Perhaps he met his antimajorana.
 
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  • #12
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Note that I know close to nothing about particle physics - but doesn't this mean that this is a particle that gets annihilated in contact with itself?
A particle is not in contact "with itself". And interactions between different neutrinos are so rare they are completely negligible.
 
  • #14
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A particle is not in contact "with itself". And interactions between different neutrinos are so rare they are completely negligible.
Yes, I meant with _another copy of_ itself.
I see, so these particles are usually found far apart in space, so they don't tend to collide very often.
It's a bizarre world... :)
 
  • #15
epenguin
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I see, so these particles are usually found far apart in space, so they don't tend to collide very often.
It's a bizarre world... :)
No, even I know that's wrong. They are not far apart - a zillion zillion of them have gone through your fingernail since I started writing this. But you didn't notice did you? That's because they didn't notice you either. A zillion zillion particles passing through everything without affecting anything would be a metaphysical belief. But once in a zillionzillion times (approximately) they do do something to an atom. These neutrinos were predicted from theory and what they do was predicted and the prediction has been reliably and often verified. So now I looked up something and if I'm not mistaken there are about 1017 of them going through a cubic meter per second, almost at the speed of light, and they interact with an atom in a detector the size of a swimming pool a few times a year. But detected they are and that makes all the difference from a metaphysical belief and makes Science bloody marvellous.
 
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  • #16
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Well, no 'even I' needed: don't underestimate how ignorant someone can be about something you know. :O)
I suppose I was applying my own little chemist's view to particles, as if one could have a jar of them on a shelf.
As a consequence, I was assuming that when particles (seen as a 'substance') are 'concentrated' in space, they will occasionally collide, and that collision implies interaction. That's why I didn't understand how a particle could be its own antiparticle and at the same time exist in close proximity with copies of itself without quickly annihilating.

Thank you for setting the record straight about it!
 

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