Gell-Mann was raised in a family of Jewish immigrant
s 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