1921- Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel Laureate in Physics (1969) for his contributions to the field of elementary particle physics, is most famous for having proposed the idea of the quark (and for haven chosen its name). George Zweig originated the same idea independently in the same year, 1964. Gell-Mann now studies complex adaptive systems at the Santa Fe Institute of which he is a founding member. He is the author of The Quark and the Jaguar, Adventures in the Simple and the Complex

Gell-Mann was raised in a family of Jewish immigrants in Manhattan. He graduated from high school at age fourteen, failed to complete his senior thesis at Yale, then earned a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by the time he was twenty-one. Robert Oppenheimer brought him to the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, then in 1952 Gell-Mann went to the University of Chicago to work with Enrico Fermi. It was about that time that he developed his theory of particle beams with unexpected longetivity, which he called "strangeness." He accepted his first tenured position, at Cal Tech, where he formed a strained partnership of sorts with Richard Feynman.

In 1960 Gell-Mann discovered the relation between different-sized particles, and saw that they fit together beautifully in groups of eight. He called this the Eightfold Way, and it showed that a subatomic particle had structure, that a proton was made of three tiny particles called quarks.

The Israeli physicist Yuval Ne'eman said that one of the crucial things he learned from Gell-Mann was the importance of packaging a theory.


info from Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics (1999), by George Johnson

Gell-Mann was apparently very picky about how people pronounced his name. So you'd better do it right:

It has a hard G. It does not sound like jello or jelly. Second, and almost as important, the two syllables are pronounced with nearly the same emphasis. The accent is not put on one syllable or the other, it is put on both. It is probably easiest for us Americans to deal with if we just think of it as two words. That's about all there is to it. (A lot of people just called him Murray.)

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