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Murray Gell-Mann

Murray Gell-Mann

The American physicist Murray Gell-Mann (born 1929) coined the definition "quarks" to describe the triplets of particles that form the cores of atoms. The Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1969, he helped to develop the Stanford model, which describes the behavior of subatomic particles and their forces.

Murray Gell-Mann was born on September 15, 1929, in New York City of Austrian immigrant parents. A precocious child, he attended a special school for gifted children, where he took a physics course. "It was the dullest course I've ever taken," he told Omni magazine in 1985, "and the only course I've ever done badly in!"

Early Academic Career

Gell-Mann graduated from school at the age of 15 and entered Yale University, where he sailed through a bachelor's degree to earn his diploma in 1948. Next came graduate study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he claims to have found out, for the very first time, what true scientific research can achieve. Totally committed to his work, he completed his doctorate in 1951, and proceeded to the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, where he had been awarded a research grant.

Gell-Mann's first academic appointment was in 1952 with the Institute for Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, where he started the work on elementary particles that was to bring him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1969. In 1955 he moved to the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Gell-Mann was the recipient of the Dannie Heineman Prize of the American Physical Society in 1959 and of numerous special lectureships and honors.

Order out of Chaos

Gell-Mann was one of the young physicists of the 1950s who tried to bring order into the chaotic field of elementary particles. In 1953 he proposed the invariant quality of "strangeness" to explain the behavior of some of the elementary particles. This quality, he noted, was conserved in strong and electromagnetic interactions but not in weak interactions. Strangeness proved useful in ordering the particles to form a classification chart somewhat analogous to the periodic table of elements. The chart not only listed families of particles, but by means of it Gell-Mann was able to predict the existence of a hitherto unknown particle, omega-minus, which was detected in 1964.

Physicists began using the term "strange particles" to describe a group of particles, inclusive for K-mesons and hyperons, that exhibited several peculiarities. To explain the anomalously long lifetimes of these particles, Gell-Mann advanced the theory of "associated production": the strong forces responsible for strange particles could act to create them only in batches of more than one at a time. Using his strangeness formulations, Gell-Mann also gave descriptions in detail of numerous decay events of strange particles, as well as prophesying the existence of the neutral xi particle.

In his continuing search for a more general elementary particle theory, Gell-Mann introduced a hypothetical particle, the quark, which is viewed as the fundamental stable constituent of the other particles and therefore is possibly the ultimate building block in the physical universe. Although quarks were not known to exist in the early 1960s when he began to work on particle physics, by the mid-1990s six types, forming three pairs, had been positively identified, and Gell-Mann does not rule out the possibility that there may be many more waiting for discovery.

During the Cold War years, Gell-Mann's work on particle physics was useful to the U.S. defense industries and the military. Notable among his assignments was his antisubmarine work for the Rand Corporation, and his service as a consultant to the Institute for Defense Analysis, especially with regard to the detection of nuclear test detonations.

His formal place of employment, however, was the University of Chicago, where he remained until 1955. The following year he took a professorship at CalTech.

A settled home on the coveted west coast notwithstanding, Gell-Mann left California in 1993 to work at the Santa Fe Institute—an institution he co-founded in 1984— to focus on complex adaptive systems, an interdisciplinary field.

Gell-Mann has written and co-authored many papers. His longer works include: The Discovery of Subatomic Particles, (1983) and The Quark and the Jaguar.

A Man of Many Interests

A man of wide interests, Gell-Mann speaks 13 languages fluently, is an accomplished ornithologist, and is very knowledgeable about the archeology of the Southwestern United States. A passionate conservationist, he helped to establish a nonprofit organization called the World Resources Institute.

Further Reading

Information on Murray Gell-Man can be found in Omni (May, 1985) and The Scientific Life (1962), contains an interesting interview with Gell-Mann. For background information on elementary particle physics see David Park, Contemporary Physics (1964). □

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Gell-Mann, Murray (1929- )

Gell-Mann, Murray (1929- )

American physicist

Prior to the 1940s and 1950s, only a handful of fundamental particlesamong them the proton, neutron, electron, and positronhad been discovered in particle physics research. The study of cosmic rays and particle accelerator reactions revealed that the composition of matter was much more complex than previously thought. Dozens, and then hundreds of new particles were discovered. Most appeared to meet the criterion of being a basic form of matter, but they often had unexpected properties. For example, some had lifetimes much longer (109 second) than was predicted for them, based on their mass. Because of these properties, they were collectively referred to as "strange" particles. Before long, physicists aggressively began searching for a way to organize and make sense out of the particle zoo they had discovered. A leading figure in this search was Murray Gell-Mann.

Gell-Mann was born in New York City in 1929. He earned his bachelor of science degree at Yale University at the age of nineteen and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology three years later. He worked briefly at the Institute for Advanced Studies and then taught at the University of Chicago from 1952 to 1954. Gell-Mann then moved to the California Institute of Technology, where he became R.A. Millikan professor of theoretical physics in 1966.

Gell-Mann has made a number of contributions to the effort to organize the "particle zoo." In 1953, he suggested that basic particles contain an intrinsic property known as "strangeness," not unlike charge or spin. He showed how the conservation of strangeness in a particle reaction could explain a number of observations made of these new particles. A similar concept was developed independently by the Japanese physicist, Kazuhiko Nishijima.

Gell-Mann next applied himself to the development of a system for placing the known elementary particles into a small number of groups. He observed that particles could be classified into a relatively small number of families of multiplets that have similar properties. Gell-Mann referred to his classification system as the eight-fold way, after the eight ways of right living taught by the Buddha.

Gell-Mann's scheme accomplished for elementary particles what Dmitri Mendeleev's periodic table had achieved for the elements. Furthermore, like the periodic table, the eight-fold way predicted the existence of new elementary particles. The discovery in 1964 of one such particle, the omega minus (Ω) provided dramatic confirmation of Gell-Mann's ideas. The Israeli physicist, Yuval Ne'emann, independently proposed a similar system of classification at about the same time.

Finally, Gell-Mann suggested that the hundreds of elementary particles might, in fact, be composed of a very small number of even more basic particles. He called these particles quarks, from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, "Three quarks for Master Mark!" The first three quarks to be discovered were given the somewhat whimsical names of "up," "down," and "strange." Gell-Mann has also made important contributions to the theory of quantum chromodynamics, which attempts to explain interactions among quarks.

See also Atomic structure; Quantum theory and mechanics

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Gell-Mann, Murray

Murray Gell-Mann (gĕl´-män), 1929–, American theoretical physicist, b. New York City, grad. Yale 1948, Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1951. In 1953, he and the Japanese team of T. Nakano and Kazuhiko Nishijima independently proposed the concept of "strangeness" to account for certain particle-decay patterns; strangeness became the foundation for later symmetry studies. In 1961, Gell-Mann and Israeli physicist Yuval Ne'eman independently introduced the "eightfold way," or SU(3) symmetry, a tablelike ordering of all subatomic particles analogous to the ordering of the elements in the periodic table. The 1964 discovery of the omega-minus particle, which filled a gap in this ordering, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's being awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for Physics. In 1963, Gell-Mann and American physicist George Zweig independently postulated the existence of the quark, an even more fundamental elementary particle with a fractional electric charge; quarks are confined in protons, neutrons, and other particles by forces associated with the exchange of gluons. Gell-Mann and others later constructed the quantum field theory of quarks and gluons called quantum chromodynamics (QCD). Gell-Mann's interests have extended to the study of complexity, and he is the director of physics at the Santa Fe Institute, which he helped found in 1984. He has written The Eightfold Way in collaboration with Ne'eman (1964), Broken Scale Invariance and the Light Cone with Kenneth G. Wilson (1971), and The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and Complex (1984).

See biography by G. Johnson (1999).

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Gell-Mann, Murray

Gell-Mann, Murray (1929– ) US physicist. In 1954, he introduced the concept of ‘strangeness’ to account for the relative longevity of hadrons. In 1962, Gell-Mann predicted the existence of a new particle (omega-minus). In 1964, he coined the term ‘quark’ to describe the basic constituent of the baryon and meson. Gell-Mann received the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on elementary particles.

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