Thursday, May 30, 2019

Murray Gell-Mann, RIP

Murray Gell-Mann
Murray Gell-Mann died on the 24th. He was a giant among physicists, and won the Nobel Prize in 1969. Sean Carroll has a very nice article about him in the New York Times.

One thing I never knew was that Gell-Mann came up with the sound "kwork" before he saw "quark" in Finnegans Wake, in the now famous line

"Three quarks for Muster Mark!"

Gell-Mann was lucky to be in his prime when experimental and theoretical physics was in chaos, because of all the elementary particles being discovered in the '60s that seemed to have no rhyme or reason. And he took full advantage of that luck. Gell-Mann tamed the "particle zoo" with his "Eightfold Way" classifications, which even predicted new particles that were then found. And he didn't do it via big calculations, but by being especially creative and insightful. It was about as... joyful as physics gets. It was by no means all that Gell-Mann did, as Carroll writes.

Gell-Mann is probably among the top ten theoretical physicists of the 20th century. More people should know his name.

The meson octet of the Eightfold Way

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