Murray Gell-Mann

Murray Gell-Mann

American physicist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics for 1969 for his work pertaining to the classification of subatomic particles and their interactions.
Having entered Yale University at the age of 15, Gell-Mann received his B.S. in physics in 1948 and his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951. His doctoral research on subatomic particles was influential in the later work of the Nobel laureate (1963) Eugene P. Wigner. In 1952 Gell-Mann joined the Institute for Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago. The following year he introduced the concept of "strangeness," a quantum property that accounted for previously puzzling decay patterns of certain mesons. As defined by Gell-Mann, strangeness is conserved when any subatomic particle interacts via the strong force--i.e., the force that binds the components of the atomic nucleus.

In 1961 Gell-Mann and Yuval Ne'eman, an Israeli theoretical physicist, independently proposed a scheme for classifying previously discovered strongly interacting particles into a simple, orderly arrangement of families. Called the Eightfold Way (after Buddha's Eightfold Path to Enlightenment and bliss), the scheme grouped mesons and baryons (e.g., protons and neutrons) into multiplets of 1, 8, 10, or 27 members on the basis of various properties. All particles in the same multiplet are to be thought of as variant states of the same basic particle. Gell-Mann speculated that it should be possible to explain certain properties of known particles in terms of even more fundamental particles, or building blocks. He later called these basic bits of matter "quarks," adopting the fanciful term from James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake. One of the early successes of Gell-Mann's quark hypothesis was the prediction and subsequent discovery of the omega-minus particle (1964). Over the years, research has yielded other findings that have led to the wide acceptance and elaboration of the quark concept (see also quark).

Gell-Mann joined the faculty of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, in 1955 and was appointed Millikan professor of theoretical physics in 1967. He published a number of works, notable among which are The Eightfold Way (1964), written in collaboration with Ne'eman; Broken Scale Variance and the Light Cone (1971), coauthored with K. Wilson; and The Quark and the Jaguar (1994).

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