The Department of Physics and Astronomy "Ettore Majorana" makes part of the age-old University of Catania (Siciliae Studium Generale, Siculorum Gymnasium, Studij Publici or Almo Studio), established in 1434 by means of an ‘institutional privilege’ by Alfonso of Aragon. However, it started its activity only ten years later, via the ‘institutional breve’ signed by Pope Eugene IV.
The Studium could confer degrees, bachelors (baccalauream) and other licenses (similar to diplomas): licenses were in Medicine, Bachelors in Theology, Medicine, and the Arts, while the more prestigious degrees were in Theology, Canonical law, Civil law, Liberal arts, Medicine.
Only three faculties were originally present: Law, Medicine, and Theology. In that period, studies in physics were concerned with Aristotelian physics. Such a state of affairs went on until August 1779, when a reformation in the studies increased the number of full professorships to thirty, one of which being Experimental physics, within the course in Philosophy. In 1787, also a professorship in General physics was established, but always within the course in Philosophy.
In 1829, an important cultural development took place, thanks to Lorenzo Maddem, a noteworthy scholar and practitioner - he was Inspector General to the Bridges and Roads in the districts of Catania, Messina, and Syracuse. In that period of cultural turmoil, and until 1867, Agatino Longo was professor of Experimental physics. In 1840, new regulations reformed the University: there were five Faculties, among which the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences. The Physics Cabinet was originally located in a room in the basement of the University Palace, before being removed to the topmost floor of the same.
Damiano Macaluso and Adolfo Bartoli were professors of Experimental physics from 1875 to 1886, and from 1886 to 1892, respectively. Under their guidance, the research activity in Physics in Catania started to acquire international relevance. Since then, several remarkable scholars operated in Catania, such as Giovan Pietro Grimaldi, later to become Rector Magnificus of the University of Catania, E. Drago, Orso Maria Corbino, Enrico Boggio Lera, O. Specchia, and others.
Around 1950, the Institute of Physics was located at the Palace of the Sciences. It was then moved to the building behind, and was subsequently denominated Department of Physics. On September 26, 2000, from the merger of the Department of Physics and the Institute of Astronomy, Tuccio Lo Nigro and Gaetano Belvedere being their Directors, respectively, the Department of Physics and Astronomy was established. In July 2002 the Department of Physics and Astronomy moved to its actual location within the University Campus (Cittadella Universitaria). In November 2018 the Department has been dedicated to "Ettore Majorana".