Murray Gell-Mann, a titan of physics in the 20th century, died last Friday at age 89.
He was probably best known for proposing the existence of, and naming, “quarks,” the elementary particles that bind together to form protons, neutrons, and other strongly-interacting particles. (The name comes from Finnegan’s Wake: “Three quarks for Muster Mark.”) For this work he received the 1969 Nobel Prize for Physics. But he made many other seminal contributions as well, and in the mid-20th century Caltech, where he and Richard Feynman were on the faculty, was arguably the leading center for theoretical physics in the world.
I never met him personally, though I saw him give talks on a couple of occasions. He was scrupulous in pronouncing names correctly, e.g., “Einshtein.” The joke was that Gell-Man had eight brains, and each one was smarter than you. Another story in which he makes an appearance: When his student Sidney Coleman (also a legend of theoretical physics) was applying for a job he wrote a letter that said, “Coleman knows more about quantum field theory than anyone in the world except Dick Feynman.” Feynman’s letter said, “Coleman knows more about quantum field theory than anyone in the world except me.” So Gell-Mann and Feynman agreed on at least one thing.
MicroBooNE collaboration meeting, July 2018. In red: Brad Goff, Heather Tanner, Jiyu Li, and Nathaniel Tagg.
Heather and Brad did an awesome job presenting their summer work to the collaboration. The work was mentioned specifically in David Caratelli’s ops summary. The group did great work this summer and I’m proud of all of us.