Murray Gell-Mann
Born (1929-09-15) September 15, 1929 (age 94)
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma mater
Known for
J. Margaret Dow
(m. 1955; died 1981)
Marcia Southwick
(m. 1992)
ChildrenTwo plus one stepchild
Scientific career
ThesisCoupling strength and nuclear reactions (1951)
Doctoral advisorVictor Weisskopf[2]
Doctoral students

Murray Gell-Mann (/ˈmʌri ˈɡɛl ˈmæn/; born September 15, 1929) is an American physicist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. He is the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Theoretical Physics Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, a distinguished fellow and co-founder of the Santa Fe Institute, a professor of physics at the University of New Mexico, and the Presidential Professor of Physics and Medicine at the University of Southern California.[5]

Gell-Mann has spent several periods at CERN, among others as a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow in 1972.[6][7]

Early life and education

Gell-Mann was born in lower Manhattan into a family of Jewish immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, specifically from Chernivtsi in present-day Ukraine.[8][9] His parents were Pauline (née Reichstein) and Arthur Isidore Gell-Mann, who taught English as a Second Language (ESL).[10]

Propelled by an intense boyhood curiosity and love for nature and mathematics, he graduated valedictorian from the Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School and subsequently entered Yale College at the age of 15 as a member of Jonathan Edwards College. 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. Gell-Mann earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Yale in 1948 and a PhD in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1951. His supervisor at MIT was Victor Weisskopf.[2][11]


In 1958, Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman, in parallel with the independent team of George Sudarshan and Robert Marshak, discovered the chiral structures of the weak interaction in physics. This work followed the experimental discovery of the violation of parity by Chien-Shiung Wu, as suggested by Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee, theoretically.

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 interactions. 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. Gell-Mann and Abraham Pais were involved in explaining several puzzling aspects of the physics of these particles.

In 1961, this led him (and Kazuhiko Nishijima) to introduce a classification scheme for hadrons, elementary particles that participate in the strong interaction. (This scheme had been independently proposed by Yuval Ne'eman.) This scheme is now explained by the quark model. 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 way of Buddhism.)

In 1964, Gell-Mann and, independently, George Zweig went on to postulate the existence of quarks, particles of which the hadrons of this scheme are composed. The name 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",[12] 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.[13]

In 1972 he and Harald Fritzsch introduced the conserved quantum number "color charge", and later, together with Heinrich Leutwyler, they coined the term quantum chromodynamics (QCD) as the gauge theory of the strong interaction. 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 superseded the eightfold way scheme.

He is currently 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. He is a member of the editorial board of the Encyclopædia Britannica. In 1984 Gell-Mann co-founded the Santa Fe Institute—a non-profit theoretical research institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico—to study complex systems and disseminate the notion of a separate interdisciplinary study of complexity theory.

He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1951, and a visiting research professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign from 1952 to 1953.[14] He was a visiting associate professor at Columbia University and an associate professor at the University of Chicago in 1954–55 before moving to the California Institute of Technology, where he taught from 1955 until he retired in 1993.

Murray Gell-Mann in Nice, 2012

During the 1990s, Gell-Mann's interest turned to the emerging study of complexity. He played a central role in the founding of the Santa Fe Institute, where he continues to work as a distinguished professor.

He wrote a popular science book about these matters, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. 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".[15]

The author George Johnson has written a biography of Gell-Mann, Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann, and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics, which was shortlisted for the Royal Society Book Prize.[16] Gell-Mann has criticized it as inaccurate. The Nobel Prize–winning physicist Philip Anderson, in his chapter on Gell-Mann,[17] says that Johnson's biography is excellent. Both Anderson and Johnson say that Gell-Mann is a perfectionist and that his semibiographical, The Quark and the Jaguar is consequently incomplete.

In 2012 he and Mary McFadden published the book Mary McFadden: A Lifetime of Design, Collecting, and Adventure.[18]

Scientific contributions

Gell-Mann introduced, independently of George Zweig, the quark—constituents of all hadrons—having first identified the SU(3) flavor symmetry of hadrons. This symmetry is now understood to underlie the light quarks, extending isospin to include strangeness, a quantum number which he also discovered.

He developed the V−A theory of the weak interaction in collaboration with Richard Feynman. 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.

Gell-Mann, along with Maurice Lévy, developed the sigma model of pions, which describes low-energy pion interactions. Modifying the integer-charged quark model of Moo-Young Han and Yoichiro Nambu, Harald Fritzsch and Gell-Mann were the first to write down the modern accepted theory of quantum chromodynamics, although they did not anticipate asymptotic freedom. In 1969 he received the Nobel Prize in physics for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions.[19]

Gell-Mann is responsible, together with Pierre Ramond and Richard Slansky, and independently of Peter Minkowski, Rabindra Mohapatra, Goran Senjanovic, Sheldon Lee Glashow, and Tsutomu Yanagida, for the seesaw theory of neutrino masses, that produces masses at the large scale in any theory with a right-handed neutrino. He is also known to have played a large role in keeping string theory alive through the 1970s and early 1980s, supporting that line of research at a time when it was unpopular.

Gell-Mann is a proponent of the consistent histories approach to understanding quantum mechanics.

Personal life

Gell-Mann married J. Margaret Dow (d. 1981) in 1955: their children are Elizabeth Sarah Gell-Mann (b. 1956) and Nicholas Webster Gell-Mann (b. 1963). Margaret died in 1981, and in 1992 he married Marcia Southwick, with whom he has a stepson, Nicholas Southwick Levis (b. 1978).[citation needed]

Gell-Mann has interests in birdwatching, collecting antiques, ranching, historical linguistics, archaeology, natural history, the psychology of creative thinking, other subjects connected with biological, and cultural evolution and with learning.[19][20][failed verification] Along with S. A. Starostin, he established the Evolution of Human Languages project[21] at the Santa Fe Institute.

As a humanist and an agnostic, Gell-Mann is a Humanist Laureate in the International Academy of Humanism.[22][23]

Gell-Mann endorsed Barack Obama for the United States presidency in October 2008.[24]

Together with author Michael Crichton, Gell-Mann is responsible for defining the theoretical psychological phenomenon called the Gell-Mann amnesia effect.[25]

Awards and honors

Gell-Mann has won numerous awards and honours including


  1. ^ a b "Professor Murray Gell-Mann ForMemRS". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-11-17.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Murray Gell-Mann at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  3. ^ "Higgs Scalars and the Nonleptonic Weak Interactions" (1977)
  4. ^ Gell-Mann, M., and Goldberger, M. L. (1954). "The scattering of low energy photons by particles of spin 1/2." Physical Review, 96, 1433–8.
  5. ^ "Nobel Prize Winner Appointed Presidential Professor at USC".
  6. ^ "CERN-affiliated article by Gell-Mann". Springer. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  7. ^ Scientific publications of M. Gell-Mann on INSPIRE-HEP
  8. ^ M. Gell-Mann (October 1997). "My Father". Web of Stories. Retrieved 2010-10-01.
  9. ^ J. Brockman (2003). "The Making of a Physicist: A talk with Murray Gell-Mann". Retrieved 2010-10-01.
  10. ^ Profile,; accessed April 26, 2015.
  11. ^ Gell-Mann, Murray (1951). Coupling strength and nuclear reactions (PhD thesis). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. hdl:1721.1/12195. OCLC 30406975.
  12. ^ G. Zweig (1980) [1964]. "An SU(3) model for strong interaction symmetry and its breaking II". Developments in the Quark Theory of Hadrons. Vol. 1. Hadronic Press. pp. 22–101. ((cite book)): Unknown parameter |editors= ignored (|editor= suggested) (help)
  13. ^ Simple listing of Nobel Prize in Physics, 1969 Retrieved 15 February 2017
  14. ^ in 1954, there, with Francis E. Low, he discovered the renormalization group equation of QED.
  15. ^ "Murray Gell-Mann – Physicist – The decision to write "The Quark and the Jaguar" – Web of Stories".
  16. ^ Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize winners list at Retrieved 15 February 2017
  17. ^ 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. ((cite book)): External link in |chapterurl= (help); Unknown parameter |chapterurl= ignored (|chapter-url= suggested) (help)Philip Anderson, More and Different, Chapter V, World Scientific, 2011.
  18. ^ Mary McFadden; Murray Gell-Mann (2012). Mary McFadden: A Lifetime of Design, Collecting, and Adventure. Random House Incorporated. ISBN 978-0-8478-3656-7.
  19. ^ a b Biog at Retrieved 15 February 2017
  20. ^ SANTA FE, New Mexico (NM) Political Contributions by Individuals
  21. ^ Peregrine, Peter Neal (2009). Ancient Human Migrations: A Multidisciplinary Approach. University of Utah Press. p. ix. ISBN 978-0-87480-942-8. "Sergei+Starostin+and+I+established+the+Evolution+of+Human+Languages+project" "Sergei Starostin and I established the Evolution of Human Languages project" ((cite book)): External link in |quote= (help)
  22. ^ The International Academy of Humanism at the website of the Council for Secular Humanism. Retrieved 18 October 2007. Some of this information is also at the International Humanist and Ethical Union Archived 2012-04-18 at the Wayback Machine website
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann endorses Obama, at Retrieved 15 February 2017
  25. ^ Carey, Benedict (2017-10-20). "How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
  26. ^ "John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 7 March 2011. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  27. ^ Gell-Mann listing at member-directory of Retrieved 15 February 2017
  28. ^ Press Release, 10-2014, from Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften Retrieved 15 February 2017

Further reading