Murray Gell-Mann Biography
Murray Gell-Mann September 15, 1929 – May 24, 2019, was an American physicist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. Until his death, he was the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Theoretical Physics Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, a distinguished fellow and co-founder of the Santa Fe Institute, a professor of physics at the University of New Mexico, and the Presidential Professor of Physics and Medicine at the University of Southern California.
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Early life and education
Gell-Mann was born in lower Manhattan into a family of Jewish immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, specifically from Chernivtsi in present-day Ukraine. His parents were Pauline (née Reichstein) and Arthur Isidore Gell-Mann, who taught English as a Second Language(ESL).
Propelled by an intense boyhood curiosity and love for nature and mathematics, he graduated valedictorian from the Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School and subsequently entered Yale College at the age of 15 as a member of Jonathan Edwards College. At Yale, he participated in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition and was on the team representing Yale University (along with Murray Gerstenhaber and Henry O. Pollak) that won the second prize in 1947. Gell-Mann earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Yale in 1948 and a PhD in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1951. His supervisor at MIT was Victor Weisskopf.
In 1958, Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman, in parallel with the independent team of E. C. George Sudarshan and Robert Marshak, discovered the chiral structures of the weak interaction in physics. This work followed the experimental discovery of the violation of parity by Chien-Shiung Wu, as suggested by Chen-Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee, theoretically.
Gell-Mann’s work in the 1950s involved recently discovered cosmic ray particles that came to be called kaons and hyperons. Classifying these particles led him to propose that a quantum number called strangeness would be conserved by the strong and the electromagnetic interactions, but not by the weak interactions. Another of Gell-Mann’s ideas is the Gell-Mann–Okubo formula, which was, initially, a formula based on empirical results, but was later explained by his quark model. Gell-Mann and Abraham Pais were involved in explaining several puzzling aspects of the physics of these particles.
“I tought it would be pretencious and artificial to cultivate a relationship with Einstein, when he didn’t believe anything about what we were doing , he didn’t believe quantum mechanics “. Murray Gell-Mann
— Jaime Montoya (@WaveCero) May 25, 2019
In 1961, this led him (and Kazuhiko Nishijima) to introduce a classification scheme for hadrons, elementary particles that participate in the strong interaction. (This scheme had been independently proposed by Yuval Neeman.) This scheme is now explained by the quark model. Gell-Mann referred to the scheme as the Eightfold Way, because of the octets of particles in the classification. (The term is a reference to the eightfold way of Buddhism.)
In 1964, Gell-Mann and, independently, George Zweig went on to postulate the existence of quarks, particles of which the hadrons of this scheme are composed. The name was coined by Gell-Mann and is a reference to the novel Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce (“Three quarks for Muster Mark!” book 2, episode 4). Zweig had referred to the particles as “aces”, but Gell-Mann’s name caught on. Quarks, antiquarks, and gluons were soon established as the underlying elementary objects in the study of the structure of hadrons. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969 for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions.
In 1972 he and Harald Fritzsch introduced the conserved quantum number “color charge”, and later, together with Heinrich Leutwyler, they coined the term quantum chromodynamics (QCD) as the gauge theory of the strong interaction. The quark model is a part of QCD, and it has been robust enough to accommodate in a natural fashion the discovery of new “flavors” of quarks, which superseded the Eightfold Way scheme.
Murray Gell-Mann, Who Peered at Particles and Saw the Universe, Dies at 89
He “dominated theoretical particle physics during 1950s & ′60s, a period w abundance of discoveries,” David J Gross, Nobel laureate in physics, said pic.twitter.com/uBOvxvxvG2
— fj (@gecko39) May 25, 2019
At the time of his death, he was the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Theoretical Physics Emeritus at California Institute of Technology as well as a University Professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Presidential Professor of Physics and Medicine at the University of Southern California. He was a member of the editorial board of the Encyclopædia Britannica. In 1984 Gell-Mann co-founded the Santa Fe Institute—a non-profit theoretical research institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico—to study complex systems and disseminate the notion of a separate interdisciplinary study of complexity theory.
He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1951, and a visiting research professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign from 1952 to 1953. He was a visiting associate professor at Columbia University and an associate professor at the University of Chicago in 1954–1955 before moving to the California Institute of Technology, where he taught from 1955 until he retired in 1993.
During the 1990s, Gell-Mann’s interest turned to the emerging study of complexity. He played a central role in the founding of the Santa Fe Institute, where he continued to work as a distinguished professor.
He wrote a popular science book about these matters, The Quark, and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex (1994). The title of the book is taken from a line of a poem by Arthur Sze: “The world of the quark has everything to do with a jaguar circling in the night”.
The author George Johnson has written a biography of Gell-Mann, Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann, and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics(1999), which was shortlisted for the Royal Society Book Prize. Gell-Mann criticized it as inaccurate. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Philip Anderson, in his chapter on Gell-Mann from a 2011 book, says that Johnson’s biography is excellent. Both Anderson and Johnson say that Gell-Mann was a perfectionist and that his semi-biography, The Quark and the Jaguar (1994) is consequently incomplete.
Murray Gell-Mann soon found that physics fascinated him. pic.twitter.com/V02IGl3mL3
— Ricci Flow (@RicciFlow1) May 25, 2019
In 2012 he and his companion Mary McFadden published the book Mary McFadden: A Lifetime of Design, Collecting, and Adventure.
Gell-Mann introduced, independently of George Zweig, the quark — constituents of all hadrons — having first identified the SU(3) flavor symmetry of hadrons. This symmetry is now understood to underlie the light quarks, extending isospin to include strangeness, a quantum number that he also discovered.
He developed the V−A theory of the weak interaction in collaboration with Richard Feynman. In the 1960s, he introduced current algebra as a method of systematically exploiting symmetries to extract predictions from quark models, in the absence of reliable dynamical theory. This method led to model-independent sum rules confirmed by experiment and provided starting points underpinning the development of the Standard Model (SM), the widely accepted theory of elementary particles.
Gell-Mann, along with Maurice Lévy, developed the sigma model of pions, which describes low-energy pion interactions. Modifying the integer-charged quark model of Moo-Young Han and Yoichiro Nambu, Harald Fritzsch and Gell-Mann were the first to write down the modern accepted theory of quantum chromodynamics, although they did not anticipate asymptotic freedom. In 1969 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions.
Bei einem meiner gelegentlichen Streifzüge durch ,Finnegans Wake’ von James Joyce stieß ich dann auf das Wort ,quark’, und zwar in dem Satz ,Three quarks for Muster Mark!’.
Murray Gell-Mann (15. September 1929 – 24. Mai 2019): Das Quark und der Jaguar pic.twitter.com/7pwN5QmwQ4
— Selbstleser (@Selbstleser) May 25, 2019
Gell-Mann was responsible, together with Pierre Ramond and Richard Slansky, and independently of Peter Minkowski, Rabindra Mohapatra, Goran Senjanović, Sheldon Lee Glashow, and Tsutomu Yanagida, for the seesaw theory of neutrino masses, that produces masses at the large scale in any theory with a right-handed neutrino. He is also known to have played a large role in keeping string theory alive through the 1970s and early 1980s, supporting that line of research at a time when it was unpopular.
Gell-Mann was a proponent of the consistent histories approach to understanding quantum mechanics.
- Discovering quarks — the smallest fundamental component of matter — in 1964, the same year as another physicist, George Zweig. Gell-Mann named the quark after a line from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: “Three quarks for Muster Mark!”
- Taming the “particle zoo” — a chaotic period in the 1950s and 1960s during which new particles were being discovered seemingly constantly, but without a clear understanding for how they related to one another.
- Establishing the Santa Fe Institute, a research center dedicated to studying complex systems, from a human body, a bustling metropolis, the internet or the solar system.
Gell-Mann married J. Margaret Dow (d. 1981) in 1955: their children are Elizabeth Sarah Gell-Mann (b. 1956) and Nicholas Webster Gell-Mann (b. 1963). Margaret died in 1981, and in 1992 he married Marcia Southwick, with whom he had a stepson, Nicholas Southwick Levis (b. 1978).
Gell-Mann was interested in birdwatching, collecting antiques, ranching, historical linguistics, archaeology, natural history, the psychology of creative thinking, other subjects connected with biological, and cultural evolution and with learning. Along with S. A. Starostin, he established the Evolution of Human Languages project at the Santa Fe Institute.
Murray Gell-Mann, RIPhttps://t.co/l6p78vl953
I was going to write up something about the accomplishments and personality of the great physicist Murray Gell-Mann, but then I realized that I would inevitably just illustrate the Gell-Mann Effect, as named by Michael Crichton: pic.twitter.com/2B5hN74rtN
— Steve Sailer (@Steve_Sailer) May 25, 2019
As a humanist and an agnostic, Gell-Mann was a Humanist Laureate in the International Academy of Humanism.
Gell-Mann endorsed Barack Obama for the United States presidency in October 2008.
Together with author Michael Crichton, Gell-Mann was responsible for defining the theoretical psychological phenomenon called the Gell-Mann amnesia effect.
Gell-Mann died on May 24, 2019, at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.