Born on September 15th, 1929 in New York. Initially studied at Yale University in New Haven, moving from here to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, where he was awarded his doctorate in 1951 having studied under Victor Weisskopf. He then went to Princeton/N.J., to the Institute for Advanced Study and to Albert Einstein. Following a spell at the Nuclear Research Institute at the University of Chicago, Gell-Mann joined the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in 1955 as Professor for Theoretical Physics. Here, as somebody whose work primarily focused on elementary particles as the “building blocks of atoms”, he was confronted by a confusing situation. This could be compared with the situation in the world of chemistry in the 19th century, as attempts were being made to organise the 92 known chemical elements into the periodical system.
Gell-Mann’s efforts to create such a system in which all the known and proven elementary particles (up to approx. 2 GeV rest mass) could be put into order, became his life work. A new quantum number, the “strangeness”, had already been introduced in 1953 for classifying a group of newly discovered “strange” particles. Together with his Japanese colleague Nishijima, Gell-Mann first developed a formula which established a relationship between the hadrons (which are subject to strong interaction). The initial chaos with apparently more than 100 core building blocks gradually achieved a degree of order with his first theory based on an eightfold way model. He was convinced that by applying this model consistently, he would be able to forecast the existence of previously unknown particles.
In 1962, while evaluating more than one hundred thousand records taken in the bubble chamber (developed by Donald Glaser), a trace of one of these still unknown and short-lived particles, called “Omega minus”, was finally discovered. As if in a vision, comparable to Kekulé's “waking dream” about the benzene ring molecule 100 years before, two years later (assisted by George Zweig) he had a premonition that the hadrons (baryons and mesons) themselves consist of fundamental building blocks, or quarks. It had previously not been possible to release these from their bonding state because they are subject to particularly strong nuclear forces (gluons). A host of experiments long ago confirmed this concept, which led to the development of the quantum chromodynamics theory. Today, Gell-Mann is a member of the Science Board at the Santa Fe Institute (New Mexico), and also deals with problems relating to research policy.
This text of the Nobel Laureate was taken from the book: "NOBELS. Nobel Laureates photographed by Peter Badge" (WILEY-VCH, 2008):
Born in New York’s Lower East Side in 1929, Murray was something of a child prodigy, with a love of nature and an innate curiosity. He attended the Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School where he graduated top of his class and entered Yale at the age of 15.
He emerged with a BSc in physics in 1948, and gained a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951. The following year he became a member of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, fascinated by the tiny particles that make up the universe. He lectured at the University of Chicago, rising from instructor to associate professor in two years, before moving to the California Institute of Technology, where he taught from 1955 until 1993.
During the 1950s he developed his ‘strangeness theory’, involving the newly discovered strongly interacting nuclear particles kaons and hyperons. Classifying these particles led to the idea of a new quantum number called strange- ness. In 1961, he introduced a way to classify the nuclear particles called baryons. The formula, dubbed by Gell-Mann the ‘eightfold way’ because of the octets of baryons in the classification, was initially a formula of symmetry. It predicted new particles and these were found at accelerators. Later the formula was explained by the quark model, introduced by Gell-Mann in 1964 (and, independently, by George Zweig). The name quark derives from a line in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. Each baryon is made up of three quarks. Gell-Mann was among the first to find the structure of the theory of weak interaction in physics, one of the four fundamental interactions of nature. Its most familiar effect is beta decay (of neutrons in atomic nuclei) and associated radioactivity.
In 1984 he co-founded the Santa Fe Institute – a non-profit research institute to study complex systems. He has also served as a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, the NASA physics panel (1964–69), as chairman of the Western Center of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a member of the editorial board of Encyclopædia Britannica. His many awards include doctorates from universities around the world, the American Physical Society’s Dannie Heineman Prize in 1959, National Academy of Sciences’ John J. Carty Medal in 1968, United Nations Environment Programme Roll of Honor for Environmental Achievement (The Global 500) in 1988 and World Federation of Scientists’ Erice Prize in 1990. In a citation from the Southern Methodist University in 1999, he was described as “one of the world’s most creative scientists. His seminal work on creation … has reshaped the boundaries of science and humankind’s perception of the universe.” Murray Gell-Mann married J. Margaret Dow in 1955.
They have a daughter and a son. He is also a collector of East Asian antiquities and a keen linguist.
This text of the Nobel Laureate was taken from the book: "NOBELS. Nobel Laureates photographed by Peter Badge" (WILEY-VCH, 2008).