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The invisibility of particles and the disappearance of Majorana

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Portrait of the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana in the 1930s.Mondadori Portfolio (Getty Images)

In one of his songs, Franco Battiato mentions the mysterious and unique disappearance of the physicist Ettore Majorana. Everything points to it disappearing, like when a hand is opened and the fist disappears, to use Dashiell Hammett’s phrase the Maltese falconquotes that another character has also disappeared and is named Flitcraft that one day he was walking the streets of San Francisco and a ray grazed his face. With the dust rising from the jet as it hit the ground, Flitcraft had a revelation. For him, for Flitcraft, this event was a warning of fate and from that moment he decided to change the course of his life. He made the decision to leave everything behind, including his family and the office where he worked. And it was put in the station.

But what brings us here today, more than the ideas of Batiatto or Hammettt, are the scientific ideas of one of the greatest physicists of all time. Because for him, for Majorana, science was an inner drive, a mysterious toy and a philosophy. Perhaps because of the latter, Majorana allied himself with another philosopher of science like Heisenberg, who delayed the development of atomic devices for Hitler as much as possible and sounded the alarm about what might happen if an atomic bomb were one day to fall on civilian populations. But Heisenberg was ignored. The only person listening was his Italian student, young Majorana.

From that moment he began his escape; a forced flight due to his moral considerations in the direction of science, since Majorana did not want to get involved in the development of the atomic race and deserted from public life forever on March 25, 1938, the date he wanted to compete in a ship, that would bring him to Palermo.

From then on, the fate of the physicist is a mystery and his life a legend. In reality, Majorana, who was born in 1906, only published nine scientific articles, all of which related to elementary particles. But his intuition would lead him to consider that one of the elementary particles could in turn be its own antiparticle. For this reason we know today the Majorana fermion, a particle named after him and attributed to his teacher Enrico Fermi (hence the name fermion). For those who don’t already know, Enrico Fermi, Nobel Laureate in Physics, was one of the physicists who participated in the Manhattan Project and helped implement nuclear toys. It was also Enrico Fermi who compared Majorana to Galileo or Newton.

All in all, the story of Majorana is the story of quantum mechanics, in which the particles that nourish matter behave without regard to scientific rationalism. Therefore, in the dimension of the quantum world, invisibility can be achieved, as the Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli assumed. According to his principle, a gas can suddenly become transparent if certain conditions are met so that the atoms cannot change their quantum state, and only if the enclosed atoms do not have the space to do so. To put it scientifically, the gases are stuffed into a form of matter called the Fermi Sea.

And that’s why a cloud of quantum gas, with its atoms packed together, becomes invisible as it cools. Something similar happened to Majorana, who was never heard from again and was never seen again the day he took the boat to Palermo. His life grew cold and disappeared like a smile pursing your lips.

the stone axe It is a passage in which Montero Glez, with a prosaic will, exerts his particular siege on scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge.

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Source elpais.com

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