The History of EMFCSC

In a remote corner of Europe
the University of the Third Millennium with a science
without secrets and without frontiers is born

In 2010 we celebrate 48 years since the establishment on May 8th, 1962 in Geneva of the Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture (EMFCSC). This Institution is neither an academy nor a university like those familiar to us all. Bell, Blackett, Rabi, Weisskopf and Zichichi, signed the charter constitution that gave new meaning to Science and its culture. Every year since 1963, authors of new discoveries and inventions come to Erice; 76 of them were awarded the Nobel Prize after their participation to the EMFCSC activities and 49 were already Nobel laureates. These scientific world leaders teach to students from all over the world who are eager to receive the latest knowledge directly from the mouths of its authors, just as was done in the University of Bologna more than nine centuries ago. In the course of its forty-eight years of activity (1963-2009), over hundred thousand scientists from one hundred and forty nations have taken part in post-university activities that have rallied around the banner of a Science without secrets and without frontiers.  This scientific community has striven to break down ideological, political and racial barriers that were invented not by Science, but by its worst enemies.  The very existence of a scientific community as vast as that of Erice serves as concrete evidence that the new role of Science has already become a reality.  To conduct Science means to discover the Fundamental Laws of Nature.  The applications of great scientific discoveries almost always slip out of the control of Science itself.  This is why technological development almost always contradicts the values instilled by Science:  love for Creation and respect for life and human dignity.  “Science and Faith are both gifts of God”, said John Paul II.  No Pope has ever before had the courage to put Science and Faith on pedestals of equivalent dignity, and it is out of this truth that the new role of Science is born.  

And it is this same truth that fathered the “Spirit of Erice”, known in the international scientific community as “The Erice Geist” (a mix of Italian, English and German).  It was this “Erice Geist” that brought the greatest Defense intellects from the USA and the USSR to share the same table at Erice's Seminars on Nuclear War.  Thus it seems worthwhile to ask ourselves what happened at Erice 48 years ago.

To understand what happened at Erice from 1963 on, it is first necessary to jump back nine hundred years in time.  When the first University was founded nine hundred years ago in Bologna, the impetus came from a source that has still not run dry, even today.  Quite the contrary.  To learn the  origins of the latest inventions and discoveries straight from the mouths of the inventors and discoverers themselves... It was this possibility that  pushed a group of well-educated men to establish the first University.  In that era, the medical and juridical sciences were the centre of attention.  To learn of the latest findings, one had to wait for the books to be drafted.  The time necessary:  ten years.  But now books can be printed in a week.  Why then should we insist on seeking the "living voice" of those who discover and invent?


Victor F. Weisskopf with Antonino Zichichi at CERN, in garden (1960)

While the time required to publish a volume has been reduced, our body of knowledge has expanded at an overwhelming pace.  What we have learned from Galilei's time up to today is greater than everything that happened during the ten thousand years that separates us from the dawn of civilization.  And what has become of that institution called the University?  Slowly and quietly it had to absorb the enormous growth of knowledge.  In all fields.  So, from the  propulsive centre of new knowledge it turned into a place of propaedeutic formation.  Bringing young scholars to the threshold of new cognition, enabling them to understand what is being done in the most advanced sectors of the different disciplines through which human knowledge is articulated:  that is the work of today's University.  And it is not a trivial work.

How should we present the latest inventions and discoveries?  By talking about who did them?  How they were done?  How the conclusions were reached?  

When a student opens a university text, he almost always gets the impression that the topic of study is a closed chapter.  He will rarely find the space to discuss and comprehend what the open problems are in that field.  Nevertheless, all fields have such problems to resolve.  

The expansion of human knowledge has brought university teaching to a territory that is completely different from where it started out.  Nine hundred years ago, a well-educated person could be versed in several different disciplines to their full depth.  Today, the discipline of physics alone corresponds to an immense world of knowledge.  There is molecular physics, atomic physics, and nuclear and subnuclear physics, to mention only a few of the largest subdivisions in the science of physics.  And even if we focus on subnuclear physics alone, we find that there are at least ten recognized specialties within this field.


Victor F. Weisskopf, Sidney D. Drell and Antonino Zichichi (Erice, 26 May 1963)

In mathematics there are hundreds of sectors, each of great size and interest.  Nothing changes if we shift from so-called pure Science to applied Science.  To speak of medicine is to give one name to a thousand sectors.  So what happens to a young student who wants to know the latest in the sector that is most fascinating to him?  A single University might have, at best, only a couple of first-order superstars, and they alone certainly cannot cover all the fields of human knowledge.  

It is possible to locate the specialists that work with the cutting edge in any particular sector, but it would be an impossible undertaking to seek to learn directly from all of them.  You would have to commute all over the world to have the privilege to meet with them and to sit in on their classes.  

At Erice, anyone who participates in the courses of a particular School – the oldest is that of subnuclear physics – is called a 'student'.  In reality, this usually involves young scholars who have successfully completed their university studies and who come to Erice to find out what the new problems are.  This happens in all fields, which are too many to enumerate here.  It suffices to say that there are over one hundred schools in existence.

But what distinguishes Erice the most is the spirit that animates all  participants, both students and docents.  The primary objective is to learn.  No diplomas or degrees of any type are given out.  Like nine hundred years ago.  The student listens to the lesson and then, after a break for lunch, the fun part begins.  The student can ask the lecturer any question.  Even the most banal.  It is in everyone's interest to know the thoughts of young brains upon their exposure to scientific findings about which they had, presumably, already imagined many details and specifics, but rarely the same ones that are mixing around in the head of the docent.  For a single problem, there are many different approaches.  This is the whole point of discussion groups.  When a group of scientists gathers to address themes of great scientific novelty, almost anything can happen.  One time the Scientific Director of the Zurich branch of IBM came to this School.  On his return to Zurich, he resigned from his directorship in order to dedicate himself to an idea that came to him during the courses at Erice.  That idea led him to discover high-temperature superconductivity:  he was awarded with the Nobel Prize. We are talking about Alex Müller.  This is one example of how new ideas can be born at Erice.


The father of the Theorem of Time, Professor Eugene Wigner (on the left in the photo) and Professor Paul Dirac
(on the right in the photo), father of the equation which brought to Antimatter, with Antonino Zichichi.

The example cited refers to pure scientific research, even if the applications of high-temperature Superconductivity will be of enormous interest for the transport of electric energy and thousands of other activities.  

The latest one being the discovery by Hill, Proust, Taillefer, Fournier and Greene that Electrical Current is coupled to the quantum of charge Qe while the Thermal Conductivity is coupled to the quantum of intrinsic rotation, the Spin .

The idea of greatest value to come out of Erice, over the course of long years ridden by oft-ignored conflicts involving many countries, is that of the Statement that has been endorsed by more than ten thousand scientists from one hundred and fifteen nations.  The mission of the Erice-Statement is the fight against secret Laboratories.

There will come a day when anyone who does scientific-technological research in great secrecy has to be indicted for crimes against Humanity.  Opening the doors of scientific Laboratories, whatever types of research this action might unveil, would not only provide a new impetus to scientific research in all fields of the knowable.  It would also knock off track the insane spiral of the arms race that today, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, has no more reason to exist.  Maybe it seems utopian to think that it could ever be possible to root out the secrets of the scientific-techno-military Laboratories.  One thing, however, is certain.  If we fail to do so, sooner or later the planet is destined to go up in smoke.  

The project for realizing a World Lab that is open to the best intellects, without racial, ideological, political, religious or geographical (East, West, North, South) barriers, is the fruit of a promise that the scientific community – led by Erice – has made for the sake of all those who love peace not only as a word, but also as something that they wish to construct day by day out of facts.  

As mentioned in the opening, the scientists of Erice have given life to a new way of conceiving international scientific collaboration:  without secrets and without frontiers.  This is the Spirit of Erice.  As an indispensable part of this collaboration, the Voluntary Scientific Service has the objective of developing all of the poor countries (South) that are far below the scientific and technological levels of today's industrialized countries (North). The Voluntary Scientific Service has leave to realize projects that would require enormous sums if it were not able to count on the work offered by thousands of scientists and specialists who ask nothing in terms of stipends or compensation for the work they put in.  This voluntarism touches all levels, up to the highest.  In fact, contributors to our projects include protagonists of global prestige from Science, Technology and Medicine, among which are many Nobel Laureates.

The memorable session when the putsch in Moscow destroyed Gorbachev's attempt to bring the Soviet Union adiabatically towards democracy. All these events are closely connected with the activities at the EMCSC, with the World Federation of Scientists as the main point of reference for all problems. For example, when the putsch took place in Moscow, the Soviet scientists present in Erice received an ultimatum to return home immediately. Most of them were with members of their family and I vividly recall their terror over the possibility of seeing their common nightmare materialise, the return of a Stalinist-type dictatorship in their country. I sent a telegram to Moscow asking for confirmation of the order received by my colleagues in Erice. According to official news, the new government wanted to maintain international collaboration. An order to go back was in contradiction with official statements by the new Soviet government and would have produced serious consequences in the international scientific community. That telegram allowed the USSR scientists present in Erice with their families not to obey immediately to the peremptory order received. Fortunately the putsch was quickly over, and the figure above shows a picture celebrating the end of the terrible hours, when we all were convinced that the world was going to be confronted with another long period of cold war. The putsch was really a terrible surprise. In fact, before the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the scientific community participating in the Erice Seminars was optimistic enough to start considering the problems that the planet would have to face once the East-West confrontation was over. This is how the first studies on the Planetary Emergencies started.

The results obtained thanks to the Voluntary Scientific Service are born from the Spirit of Erice and demonstrate the importance of our promise as scientists from the industrialized countries (North) to create a scientific solidarity towards the states who are needy in every respect (South).  To overcome the gap that grows bigger every year between the poor countries (South) and the rich (North), it is not enough to offer food and medicine.  The poor countries (South) also need to learn to approach and resolve – with their own intellectual energy – the problems that inhibit their own development.  The rich countries (North) must help them, not with wasted economic energy invested in useless projects, but intellectually and materially with concrete projects whose precise objectives have been elaborated by the scientific community in close collaboration with the best intellectual energy of the needy states themselves.  Without the groundwork that the scientific community of Erice was able to put up through 48 years of activity, North-South relations would probably be fixed on a collision course.  It is the Spirit of Erice that allows us to hope that it may be possible to avoid this.  

The «Ettore Majorana» Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture is neither an Academy nor a University like those familiar to everyone.  It is an Institution born in the heart of the Frontiers of Science through the work of Bell, Blackett, Rabi, Weisskopf and the writer himself.  

We are talking about exponents of Science who will be remembered in the History of Physics of the 20th century.  Patrick M.S. Blackett, Nobel Prize winner, Lord and Grand Admiral of the British Navy, discovered the first example of simultaneously produced “electron-antielectron”.  In his Laboratory were discovered the first “strange particles”, so called because no one had predicted or foreseen them.  These particles would open up a new frontier in the Subnuclear Universe.  

Isidor I. Rabi, discoverer of the effect that bears his name, was awarded the Nobel for this; to him we owe the creation of the prestigious School of Physics of the University of Columbia in New York, and of the Scientific Committee of NATO:  an enterprise of formidable originality in that it linked a military structure – with the end of defending Europe from the danger of invasion by the USSR – to the Science of free and democratic countries.  It was the Laboratory of Columbia University in New York that brought in Enrico Fermi when he was unfortunately required to leave Italy because of racist laws.


8 May 1993, Professor Zichichi delivers to the Holy Father
- on behalf of the ten thousand scientists of Erice - his welcome address.

Victor F. Weisskopf is a mythic figure of European Science.  I was, with John Bell, at the beginning of my scientific career when Europe took its first steps towards building a structure that was capable of competing with the gigantic USA.  This structure came to be called CERN (European Nuclear Research Centre) and is located in Geneva.  The mandate of this structure as desired by Rabi, Blackett and Niels Bohr (one of the founding fathers of Quantum Physics) was to evade the flight (the real one) of intellectuals towards the United States of America.  CERN, endowed with the most advanced technological machines, was a necessary but not sufficient condition for creating a global pole of attraction for the generations of European physicists who were already travelling outside of their home countries.  In addition to its technological structure, CERN needed a leader.  It would have to be a great scientist, an exceptional master capable of sparking new interests.  Weisskopf was the first physicist in the world to calculate the “virtual” effects, in those times called the “polarization of the vacuum”.  Effects that are now daily bread on the Frontiers of Physics.  We would never have been able to arrive at the Superworld frontier if we had not been able to introduce “virtual” effects into the study of galilean reality.  Weisskopf led CERN to the centre of global scientific attention.  John Bell, of my generation, became famous for discovering how to resolve the “paradox of Einstein-Podolsky and Rosen”, abbreviated as “The EPR paradox”.

These giants of Galilean Science of the 20th century signed on 8 May, 1962, in Geneva, the constitutive act of the «Ettore Majorana» Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture.  And so was born the so-called “Erice Centre”, with its intent to give new meaning to Science and its culture. Science, said Fermi, enters into society through its applications, not based on the merit of its values.

This is why it is necessary to distinguish scientific culture from its vulgarization.  The Erice Centre has demonstrated how it is possible for the values of science to enter into the culture of our times.  On this subject, we need to overcome the paradox that has led us to the vulgarization called “scientific”, which does not distinguish Science from Technology and has never had the courage to denounce political and economic violence.  Because it did not denounce the actual roots of the arms race and the ravages of industrialization, the greater public was exposed to the thesis that it was scientific progress itself, along with its founding fathers, that was responsible for a planet full of bombs and 63 Planetary Emergencies. 

So the phrases like “father of the atomic bomb” and “father of the H-bomb” were coined, but without mentioning that the true fathers of these two devices were, respectively, Hitler and Stalin.  It was they who gave life to the secret projects for those bombs.  It is with the Erice Statement that justice was brought to bear on these cultural mystifications, a justice that would be realized in 1989 with the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

And it was always the Erice Centre that gave the example of the role of Science in confronting and resolving the problems that afflict this marvelous space ship in its voyage around the Sun.

At Erice, in fact, will be founded the first nucleus of a new Laboratory with the mandate of studying Planetary Emergencies; not only the two most famous (the Greenhouse Effect and the Hole in the Ozone), but all 63.  The new Laboratory is called ILSEAT (International Laboratory for Science Engineering and Advanced Technology) and has been inserted by the Governor of Sicilia into his government's program. This, however, regards the future.