Thursday, September 24, 2009


While Chad is celebrating the first reviews on his book How to teach physics to your dog, and the whole universe eagerly awaits that Sean Carroll's book finally makes it from eternity to here, we hear that also Joao Magueijo will bless the world with a new book. After his first book "Faster than the speed of light," dealt with his own research life, the new one is about Majorana's disappearance. Here is the blurb from

A Brilliant Darkness: The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, the Troubled Genius of the Nuclear Age

"A theoretical physicist reveals one of the greatest untold stories of 20th-century science: the tormented genius, who discovered a key element of atomic fission, then disappeared and was never seen again. On the night of March 26th, 1938, nuclear physicist Ettore Majorana boarded a ship in Palermo, cash and a passport in hand. He was never seen again. "A Brilliant Darkness" tells the story of Majorana and his research group, nicknamed 'the Via Panisperna Boys', who unknowingly discovered atomic fission in 1934. As Majorana, the most brilliant of the group, began to realize what they had found, he became increasingly troubled, and his mental state, never terribly healthy, became unstable. Did he commit suicide that night in Palermo? Was he kidnapped? Did he stage his own death? As author Joao Magueijo narrates Majorana's tragic life and bizarre disappearance, he also offers a surprising look at the dark underbelly of science-not only its ethical difficulties but its often complex group dynamics. The momentum generated by the Via Panisperna Boys is the type that takes science in unpredictable directions: it can lead to grossly amoral errors such as eugenics, breakthroughs such as the discovery of the structure of DNA, or highly attractive dead ends such as string theory. The atomic bomb is just one of many troubling results of this dynamic. This gripping story not only chronicles Majorana's invaluable discovery - the Majorana neutrino - but also reveals new clues about one of science's most alluring mysteries. "
Time to make your Christmas wishlist :-)


  1. Perhaps Majorana suddenly thought he was Dirac and superposition of opposites annihalated itself.

  2. Thanks, Bee, could be interesting :-)

    BTW, Joao reviews Howard Burton's recent book in this week's issue of Nature. The same issue also has an article about the PI: The edge of physics. (Subscription required for both articles, unfortunately).

    Cheers, Stefan

  3. Hi Bee,

    Thanks for the heads up on the books. So Joao Magueijo has written a ‘who done it’ featuring a scientific figure from the past. I don’t know what it is about the world, where people are more prone to believe in conspiracy and feel we are all victims of it in one way or another. My take on the world is we are mostly victims of our own stupidity and general lack of concern.

    Take the current financial crisis, where the now common myth is all our woes are resultant of a few individuals, where the powers that be and the general public were duped.

    The popularity of books like this one and others like the Da Vinci Code I find as symptomatic of the troubles of our times and not explanative of them. No, I think I’ll stick to reading books on science and philosophy, with the hope that learning more about the nature of the world and ourselves, I might actually come to understand something being true and useful.



  4. Hi Bee,

    thanks for the ideas. I only knew Majorana from his spin, the Majorana Spin. Also the other books seem to be interesting especially for that book from Sean Carroll, since I have red part of lecture notes on Gravitation from the arXiv.

    Best Kay

  5. I hope the dog handles this painful procedure with stoicism.

  6. IIRC, Penrose (in one of the "Emperor" books) talks of Majorana's delving into complexities of quantum spin. For example, a ("pre-measurement") macroscopic body would be a superposition of spin axes (like, hbar each) in various directions. He had a diagram of a thing with vectors sticking out, like spines from a sea urchin. That is even weirder than e.g., being "fuzzy" in position and momentum because it assails our fundamental ideas about rotation. Majorana very importantly advanced the theory of spinors. What happened to him is as sad as mysterious.


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