Between the end of the 1920s and the first months of the 1930s, research in Nuclear Physics was an almost new field in Rome. The first works in this area were my article of 1926 and Ettore Majorana’s degree thesis – one of the first applications of Quantum Mechanics to Nuclear Physics in Italy – in which our brilliant colleague gave a rigorous mathematical justification to the phenomenon of α decay.
In 1931, the Volta Foundation organised the first International Congress of Nuclear Physics in our Institute, and the University of Rome assumed a central role in this field. I had the honour of being general secretary of the Congress. The title was the straightforward “Nuclei and Electrons”. We had two issues to address: a further development of Quantum Mechanics, which could provide a tool for the theoretical understanding of nuclear phenomena, and the consolidation of the study of artificial transmutations of the elements, a line of research inaugurated in 1919 by Ernest Rutherford.
The most influential physicists of the time, such as Niels Bohr, Marie Curie and Werner Heisenberg, arrived in Rome. Among the participants were seven Nobel Prize winners and many future winners. Six reports would take stock of the situation, face open problems and kindle long and fruitful discussions. One issue concerned the atomic nucleus that, we thought, was composed of electrons and protons. The second issue affected the theoretical explanation of β decay.
Orso Mario Corbino, Acting President of the Congress, expressed his positive expectations on the positive effect that this meeting would have on the international scientific community.
His predictions would come true a few years later with the discovery of the neutron, the positron, the Nuclear theory of Heisenberg-Majorana and my theory of β decay.