Biography:Murray Gell-Mann

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Short description: American physicist (1929–2019)

Murray Gell-Mann
Gell-Mann in 2007
Murray Gell-Mann

(1929-09-15)September 15, 1929
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
DiedMay 24, 2019(2019-05-24) (aged 89)
Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S.
Alma mater
Known for
  • J. Margaret Dow
    (m. 1955; died 1981)
  • Marcia Southwick
    (m. 1992)
  • Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics (1959)
  • E. O. Lawrence Award (1966)
  • John J. Carty Award (1968)
  • Nobel Prize in Physics (1969)
  • ForMemRS (1978)[1]
Scientific career
ThesisCoupling strength and nuclear reactions (1951)
Doctoral advisorVictor Weisskopf[2]
Doctoral students[|permanent dead link|dead link}}]

Murray Gell-Mann (/ˈmʌri ˈɡɛl ˈmæn/; September 15, 1929 – May 24, 2019)Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag was an American physicist who played a preeminent role in the development of the theory of elementary particles. Gell-Mann introduced the concept of quarks as the fundamental building blocks of the strongly interacting particles, and the renormalization group as a foundational element of quantum field theory and statistical mechanics. He played key roles in developing the concept of chirality in the theory of the weak interactions and spontaneous chiral symmetry breaking in the strong interactions, which controls the physics of the light mesons. In the 1970s he was a co-inventor of quantum chromodynamics (QCD) which explains the confinement of quarks in mesons and baryons and forms a large part of the Standard Model of elementary particles and forces.

Murray Gell-Mann received the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles.

Life and Education

Gell-Mann was born in Lower Manhattan to a family of Jewish immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, specifically from Czernowitz in present-day Ukraine .[3][4] His parents were Pauline (née Reichstein) and Arthur Isidore Gelman, who taught English as a second language.[5]

Propelled by an intense boyhood curiosity and love for nature and mathematics, he graduated valedictorian from the Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School aged 14 and subsequently entered Yale College as a member of Jonathan Edwards College.[6][7] 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.[8]

Gell-Mann graduated from Yale with a bachelor's degree in physics in 1948 and intended to pursue graduate studies in physics. He sought to remain in the Ivy League for his graduate education and applied to Princeton University as well as Harvard University. He was rejected by Princeton and accepted by Harvard, but the latter institution was unable to offer him needed financial assistance.

He was accepted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and received a letter from Victor Weisskopf urging him to attend MIT and become Weisskopf's research assistant. This would provide Gell-Mann with the financial assistance he required. Unaware of MIT's eminent status in physics research, Gell-Mann was "miserable" with the fact that he would not be able to attend Princeton or Harvard and in characteristic dark irony, said he considered suicide. Gell-Mann stated that he realized he could try to first enter MIT and commit suicide afterwards if he found it to be truly terrible. However, he couldn't first choose suicide and then attend MIT; the two "didn't commute", as Gell-Mann said.[9][10] He received his Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1951 after completing a doctoral dissertation, titled "Coupling strength and nuclear reactions", under the supervision of Weisskopf.[11][12][2]

Subsequently, Gell-Mann was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton in 1951,[6] and a visiting research professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign from 1952 to 1953.[13] 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.[14] He was on sabbatical at the Collège de France for the academic year 1958–1959.[15]

Gell-Mann married J. Margaret Dow in 1955; they had a daughter and a son. Margaret died in 1981, and in 1992 he married Marcia Southwick, whose son became his stepson.[6]

Gell-Mann's extensive interests outside of physics included archaeology, numismatics, birdwatching and linguistics.[16][17] Along with S. A. Starostin, he established the Evolution of Human Languages project[18] at the Santa Fe Institute. As a humanist and an agnostic, Gell-Mann was a Humanist Laureate in the International Academy of Humanism.[19][20] Novelist Cormac McCarthy saw Gell-Mann as a polymath who "knew more things about more things than anyone I've ever met...losing Murray is like losing the Encyclopædia Britannica."[21]

Gell-Mann died on May 24, 2019, at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.[6][17][22]

Professional Life

Gell-Mann 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.[23] He was a member of the editorial board of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Gell-Mann spent several periods at CERN, a nuclear research facility in Switzerland, among others as a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow in 1972.[24][25]

In 1984 Gell-Mann was one of several co-founders of the Santa Fe Institute—a non-profit theoretical research institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico intended to study various aspects of a complex system and disseminate the notion of a separate interdisciplinary study of complexity theory.[26][27]

Murray Gell-Mann in Nice, 2012

He wrote a popular science book about physics and complexity science, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex (1994).[28] 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".[29][30]

The author George Johnson has written a biography of Gell-Mann, Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann, and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics (1999),[31] which was shortlisted for the Royal Society Book Prize. [32] Although Gell-Mann himself criticized Strange Beauty for some inaccuracies, with one interviewer reporting him wincing at the mention of it, the book was acclaimed by a number of his colleagues. [33] A revised second edition was published in 2023 by the Santa Fe Institute Press with a foreword by Douglas Hofstadter.[34]

In 2012 Gell-Mann and his companion Mary McFadden published the book Mary McFadden: A Lifetime of Design, Collecting, and Adventure.[35]

Scientific Contributions

In 1958, Gell-Mann in collaboration with Richard Feynman, in parallel with the independent team of E. C. George Sudarshan and Robert Marshak, discovered the chiral structures of the weak interaction of physics and developed the V-A theory (vector minus axial vector theory).[36] This work followed the experimental discovery of the violation of parity by Chien-Shiung Wu, as suggested theoretically by Chen-Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee.[37]

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 interaction.[38] 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.[39] Gell-Mann and Abraham Pais were involved in explaining this puzzling aspect of the neutral kaon mixing.[40]

Murray Gell-Mann's fortunate encounter with mathematician Richard Earl Block at Caltech, in the fall of 1960, "enlightened" him to introduce a novel classification scheme, in 1961, for hadrons.[41][42] A similar scheme had been independently proposed by Yuval Ne'eman, and has come to be explained by the quark model.[43] 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 Path of Buddhism).[6][12]

Gell-Mann, along with Maurice Lévy, developed the sigma model of pions, which describes low-energy pion interactions.[44]

In 1964, Gell-Mann and, independently, George Zweig went on to postulate the existence of quarks, particles which make up the hadrons of this scheme. The name "quark" 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",[45] 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.[46]

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.[47][48]

In 1972 Gell-Mann, while on sabbatical leave to CERN, together with Harald Fritzsch, Heinrich Leutwyler and William A. Bardeen, considered a Yang-Mills theory of "quark color," and coined the term quantum chromodynamics (QCD) as the gauge theory of the strong interaction.[49] 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 has superseded the eightfold way scheme.[50]

Gell-Mann was responsible, with Pierre Ramond and Richard Slansky,[51] and independently of Peter Minkowski, Rabindra Mohapatra, Goran Senjanović, Sheldon Glashow, and Tsutomu Yanagida, proposed the seesaw theory of neutrino masses. This produces masses at the large scale in any theory with a right-handed neutrino. He is also known to have played a role in keeping string theory alive through the 1970s and early 1980s, supporting that line of research at a time when it was a topic of niche interest.[52][53]

Gell-Mann was a proponent of the consistent histories approach to understanding quantum mechanics, which he advocated in papers with James Hartle.[53][54]

Awards and honors

Gell-Mann won numerous awards and honours including the following:

  • 1959 – Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics[55]
  • 1960 – Elected member of the National Academy of Sciences[56]
  • 1962 – American Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award [57]
  • 1964 – Elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[58]
  • 1966 – Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award[59]
  • 1967 – Franklin Medal[60]
  • 1968 – National Academy of Sciences – John J. Carty Award[61]
  • 1969 – Research Corporation Award [16]
  • 1969 – Nobel Prize in Physics [16]
  • 1978 – Elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS)[1]
  • 1988 – United Nations Environment Programme Roll of Honor for Environmental Achievement (The Global 500) [62]
  • 1993 – Elected member of The American Philosophical Society[63]
  • 2005 – Albert Einstein Medal[64]
  • 2005 – American Humanist Association – Humanist of the Year [65]
  • 2014 – Helmholtz-Medal of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities [66]

Universities that gave Gell-Mann honorary doctorates include Cambridge, Columbia, the University of Chicago, Oxford and Yale.[16]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Professor Murray Gell-Mann ForMemRS". London: Royal Society. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Murray Gell-Mann at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  3. M. Gell-Mann (October 1997). "My Father". Web of Stories. 
  4. J. Brockman (2003). "The Making of a Physicist: A talk with Murray Gell-Mann". Edge Foundation, Inc.. 
  5. Profile, NNDB; accessed April 26, 2015.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named tnyt
  7. "Notable Alumni". Jonathan Edwards College. 
  8. G. W. Mackey (1947). "The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition". The American Mathematical Monthly 54 (7): 400–3. doi:10.1080/00029890.1947.11990193. 
  9. (in en) Murray Gell-Mann - MIT or suicide (17/200),, retrieved 2020-06-06 
  10. Strogatz, Steven (2013). The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity. Mariner Books. pp. 27. ISBN 978-0544105850. 
  11. Gell-Mann, Murray (1951). Coupling strength and nuclear reactions (Thesis thesis). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. hdl:1721.1/12195.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel Prize-winning physicist who named quarks, dies at 89". The Guardian. 26 May 2019. 
  13. in 1954, there, working with Francis E. Low, he discovered the renormalization group equation of QED.
  14. "Interview with Murray Gell-Mann [Oral History"]. 
  15. Glashow, Sheldon Lee (July 2019). "In Memoriam. Murray Gell-Mann". Inference 4 (4). doi:10.37282/991819.19.42. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 "Murray Gell-Mann – Biographical". 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Marshall, Jenna (May 24, 2019). "Murray Gell-Mann passes away at 89". Santa Fe Institute (Press release). Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  18. Peregrine, Peter Neal (2009). Ancient Human Migrations: A Multidisciplinary Approach. The University of Utah Press. p. ix. ISBN 978-0-87480-942-8. "Sergei Starostin and I established the Evolution of Human Languages project" 
  19. The International Academy of Humanism at the website of the Council for Secular Humanism. Retrieved October 18, 2007. Some of this information is also at the International Humanist and Ethical Union website
  20. Herman Wouk (2010). The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion. Hachette Digital, Inc.. ISBN 9780316096751. "Feynman, Gell-Mann, Weinberg, and their peers accept Newton's incomparable stature and shrug off his piety, on the kindly thought that the old man got into the game too early. ... As for Gell-Mann, he seems to see nothing to discuss in this entire God business, and in the index to The Quark and the Jaguar God goes unmentioned. Life he called a "complex adaptive system", which produces interesting phenomena such as the jaguar and Murray Gell-Mann, who discovered the quark. Gell-Mann is a Nobel-class tackler of problems, but for him the existence of God is not one of them." 
  21. Frazier, Kendrick (2019). "In Memory of Murray Gell-Mann, Who Gave Us Quarks and Ordered the Subatomic World". Skeptical Inquirer 43 (5): 10. 
  22. Dombey, Norman (2019-06-02). "Murray Gell-Mann obituary" (in en-GB). The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. 
  23. "Nobel Prize Winner Appointed Presidential Professor at USC". 
  24. Gell-Mann, M. (1972). "Quarks". Elementary Particle Physics. Springer. pp. 733–761. doi:10.1007/978-3-7091-4034-5_20. ISBN 978-3-7091-4036-9. 
  25. Scientific publications of M. Gell-Mann on INSPIRE-HEP
  26. Mitchell M. Waldrop (1993). Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780671872342. 
  27. George A. Cowan (2010). Manhattan Project to the Santa Fe Institute: The Memoirs of George A. Cowan. University of New Mexico Press. 
  28. Reviews of The Quark and the Jaguar:
  29. "Murray Gell-Mann – Physicist – The decision to write "The Quark and the Jaguar" – Web of Stories". 
  30. "Murray Gell-Mann - The decision to write "The Quark and the Jaguar" (190/200)". 
  31. Johnson, George. "Strange Beauty". [unreliable source?]
  32. Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize winners list at Retrieved February 15, 2017
  33. Rodgers, Peter (June 1, 2003). "The many worlds of Murray Gell-Mann".  In a review in the Caltech magazine Engineering & Science, Gell-Mann's colleague, the physicist David Goodstein, wrote: "I don't envy Murray the weird experience of reading so penetrating and perceptive a biography of himself. George Johnson has written a fine biography of this important and complex man". Goodstein, David L. (1999). "Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics". Engineering and Science (Caltech) 62 (4). ISSN 0013-7812. Retrieved June 3, 2019. . Physicist and Nobel laureate Philip Anderson, called the book "a masterpiece of scientific explication for the layman" and a "must read" in a review for the Times Higher Education Supplement and in his chapter on Gell-Mann from a 2011 book.Anderson, Philip W. (2011). "Ch. V Genius. Search for Polymath's Elementary Particles". More and Different: Notes from a Thoughtful Curmudgeon. World Scientific. pp. 241–2. ISBN 978-981-4350-14-3.  Philip Anderson, More and Different, Chapter V, World Scientific, 2011. Sheldon Glashow, another Nobel laureate, gave Strange Beauty a generally positive review while noting some inaccuracies, Glashow, Sheldon Lee (2000). "Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics". American Journal of Physics 68 (6): 582. doi:10.1119/1.19489. Bibcode2000AmJPh..68..582J.  and physicist and science historian Silvan S. Schweber called the book "an elegant biography of one of the outstanding theorists of the twentieth century" though he noted that Johnson did not go into depth about Gell-Mann's work with military–industrial organizations like the Institute for Defense Analyses. Schweber, Silvan S. (2000). "Strange Beauty: Murray Gell‐Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth‐Century Physics". Physics Today 53 (8): 43–44. doi:10.1063/1.1310122. Bibcode2000PhT....53h..43J.  Johnson has written that Gell-Mann was a perfectionist and that The Quark and the Jaguar was consequently submitted late and incomplete.Johnson, George (2000-07-01). "The Jaguar and the Fox" (in en-US).  In an item on, Johnson described the back story of his relationship with Gell-Mann West, Geoffrey (May 28, 2019). "Remembering Murray". Edge Foundation, Inc..  and noted that an errata sheet appears on the biography's webpage. Johnson, George. "Errata". . Gell-Mann's one-time Caltech associate Stephen Wolfram called Johnson's book "a very good biography of Murray, which Murray hated". name=wolfram>Stephen Wolfram, Remembering Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019), Inventor of Quarks Wolfram also wrote that Gell-Mann thought the writing of The Quark and the Jaguar to be responsible for a heart attack he (Gell-Mann) had had.
  34. "Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann & the Revolution in Physics" (in en-US). 
  35. Mary McFadden; Murray Gell-Mann (2012). Mary McFadden: A Lifetime of Design, Collecting, and Adventure. Random House Incorporated. ISBN 978-0-8478-3656-7. 
  36. Sudarshan, E. C. G.; Marshak, R. E. (June 1, 2016). "Origin of the Universal V‐A theory". AIP Conference Proceedings 300 (1): 110–124. doi:10.1063/1.45454. ISSN 0094-243X. 
  37. Gleick, James (1992). Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-679-40836-3. OCLC 243743850. 
  38. Gell-Mann, M. (1956). "The Interpretation of the New Particles as Displaced Charge Multiplets". Il Nuovo Cimento 4 (supplement 2): 848–866. doi:10.1007/BF02748000. Bibcode1956NCim....4S.848G. 
  39. Georgi, Howard (1999). Lie Algebras in Particle Physics: from Isospin to Unified Theories (2nd ed.). Perseus Books. ISBN 9780738202334. OCLC 479362196. 
  40. Squires, Gordon Leslie (July 26, 1999). "Quantum mechanics – Applications of quantum mechanics – Decay of the Kaon". 
  41. Gell-Mann, M. (March 15, 1961). The Eightfold Way: A Theory of Strong Interaction Symmetry (Report). Pasadena, CA: California Inst. of Tech., Synchrotron Laboratory. doi:10.2172/4008239. TID-12608. 
  42. Murray Gell-Mann - Sheldon Glashow. The SU(2) times U1 theory: Part 2 (91/200). Web of Stories. May 19, 2016. Archived from the original on 2021-12-11. Retrieved June 3, 2019 – via YouTube.
  43. Ne'eman, Y. (August 1961). "Derivation of Strong Interactions from a Gauge Invariance". Nuclear Physics (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Co.) 26 (2): 222–229. doi:10.1016/0029-5582(61)90134-1. Bibcode1961NucPh..26..222N. 
  44. Gell-Mann, M.; Lévy, M. (1960). "The axial vector current in beta decay". Il Nuovo Cimento 16 (4): 705–726. doi:10.1007/BF02859738. Bibcode1960NCim...16..705G. 
  45. G. Zweig (1980). "An SU(3) model for strong interaction symmetry and its breaking II". Developments in the Quark Theory of Hadrons. 1. Hadronic Press. pp. 22–101. 
  46. Simple listing of Nobel Prize in Physics, 1969 Retrieved February 15, 2017
  47. Ellis, John (2011). "Prospects for New Physics at the LHC". in Fritzsch, Harald; Phua, K. K.; Baaquie, B. E.. World Scientific. ISBN 9789814335607. 
  48. Cao, Tian Yu (2010). From Current Algebra to Quantum Chromodynamics: A Case for Structural Realism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139491600. 
  49. Fritzsch, H.; Gell-Mann, M.; Leutwyler, H. (1973). "Advantages of the color octet gluon picture". Physics Letters 47B (4): 365–368. doi:10.1016/0370-2693(73)90625-4. Bibcode1973PhLB...47..365F. 
  50. Baez, John C. (2003). "The Eightfold Way". University of California, Riverside. 
  51. M. Gell-Mann, P. Ramond and R. Slansky, in Supergravity, ed. by D. Freedman and P. Van Nieuwenhuizen, North Holland, Amsterdam (1979), pp. 315–321. ISBN:044485438X
  52. Rickles, Dean (2014). A Brief History of String Theory: From Dual Models to M-Theory. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9783642451287. OCLC 968779591. 
  53. 53.0 53.1 Siegfried, Tom (May 24, 2019). "Murray Gell-Mann gave structure to the subatomic world". 
  54. Kent, Adrian (April 14, 1997). "Consistent Sets Yield Contrary Inferences in Quantum Theory". Physical Review Letters 78 (15): 2874–2877. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.78.2874. Bibcode1997PhRvL..78.2874K. 
  55. "1959 Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics Recipient". "For his contributions to field theory and to the theory of elementary particles." 
  56. Gell-Mann listing at member-directory of Retrieved February 15, 2017
  57. "Murray Gell-Mann, Ph.D. Biography and Interview". Academy of Achievement (American Academy of Achievement). 
  58. "Murray Gell-Mann". February 9, 2023. 
  59. "Murray Gell-Mann 1966". May 3, 2016. "For his contributions of the highest significance to the theory of elementary and theoretical work in the field of physics." 
  60. "Murray Gell-Mann, Physics (1967)". January 15, 2014. 
  61. "John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science". National Academy of Sciences. 
  62. "Murray Gell-Mann". 
  63. "APS Member History". 
  64. "Albert Einstein Medal". 
  65. "The Humanist of the Year". American Humanist Association. 
  66. Press Release, 10–2014, from Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften Retrieved February 15, 2017

Further reading

External links