Le Neutrino de Majorana, by Nils Barrellon, Jigal Editions
Naples, 1938. Ettore Majorana, one of the physics geniuses of the 20th century, disappears mysteriously and never comes back. A tragedy, and a mystery that has captivated many writers.
The latest oeuvre, Nils Barrellon’s Le Neutrino de Majorana, is a French-language detective novel situated somewhere at the intersection of physics history and science outreach. Beginning with Majorana’s birth in 1906, Barrellon highlights the events that shaped and established quantum mechanics. With factual moments and original letters, he focuses on Majorana’s personal and scholarly life, while putting a spotlight on the ragazzi di via Panisperna and other European physicists who had to face the Second World War. In parallel, a present-day neutrino physicist is found killed right at the border of France and Switzerland. Majorana’s volumetti (his unpublished research notes) become the leitmotif unifying the two stories. Barrellon compares the two eras of research by entangling the storylines to reach a dramatic climax.
Using the crime hook as the predominant storyline, the author keeps the lay reader on the edge of their seat, while comically playing with subtleties most Cernois would recognise, from cultural differences between the two bordering countries to clichés about particle physicists, via passably detailed procedures of access to the experimental facilities – a clear proof of the author (who is also a physics school teacher) having been on-site. The novel feels like a tailor-made detective story for the entertainment of physicists and physics enthusiasts alike.
And, at the end of the day, what explanation for Majorana’s disappearance could be more soothing than a love story?