On March 25, 1938, 31-year-old physicist Ettore Majorana boarded a ship and seas never seen again. His work made him a pioneer in neutrino physics and the quantum mechanics of spin:

No one around Majorana even remotely understood what he was up to: the other Boys, for all their gifts, were much more down-at-heel. Like most physicists at the time, they regarded Majorana’s constructions as pure mathematics, without any relevance to physics. Applying group theory to physical problems, as Majorana had done, was just embellishment, or as the English like to say, “over-egging the pudding.”

Majorana didn’t care. Part of his strength was a sense of self-deprecation with which he smeared everything he did; indeed he was even more negative about his own ideas than about the others.’ He could try out unusual avenues because he didn’t take himself seriously, and so wasn’t constrained by a fear of failure. In a letter to a friend regarding his early efforts on symmetry and its toolbox, he said, “As for myself I do nothing sensible. That is, I study group theory with the firm intention of learning it, similar in this to that Dostoyevsky character who started one day to set aside his small change, fully persuaded that soon he’d be rich like Rothschild.”