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Woods Hole; working on classified problems

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Criticism of Julian Schwinger
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I was at Columbia once, visiting, when Julian Schwinger gave the colloquium, and he talked about quantum electrodynamics at short distances—his work on it. And it was all wrong. He told about his calculations and his efforts to look at the behavior of the propagators at small distances, large momenta, and finally he concluded that the most likely form was a power. Well, Francis Low and I had shown that you get... definitely get a power if you leave out photon self-energy parts, and that if you include photon self-energy parts you don’t… absolutely do not get a power: you get a renormalization group result but not a power. And I got up and I said, 'But this… this just isn't true. What you're saying just isn't right.' And then he said, 'Oh, but this agrees with what you and Francis Low have done.' So he... in other words he hadn't mentioned our work, now he showed that he actually was familiar with it, wasn't that he had never heard of it, he was familiar with it, but he deliberately didn't mention it and also got it wrong. I didn't find that kind of behavior very... very… I didn't find it acceptable.

[Q] But you must have admired his elegance as a physicist?

No. I despised it!

[Q] Oh. I just was thinking about your earlier statements as a graduate student and so on.

No, I thought elegance in the service of things that are correct and original is nice, but elegance in the service of stuff that's either wrong or stolen or both, I didn't consider it to be so... so very impressive.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann is known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.

Listeners: Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West is a Staff Member, Fellow, and Program Manager for High Energy Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also a member of The Santa Fe Institute. He is a native of England and was educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1961). He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 followed by post-doctoral appointments at Cornell and Harvard Universities. He returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1970. He left to build and lead the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group at Los Alamos. He has numerous scientific publications including the editing of three books. His primary interest has been in fundamental questions in Physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles and their interactions. His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena grew out of his work on scaling in quantum chromodynamics and the unification of all forces of nature. In 1996 this evolved into the highly productive collaboration with James Brown and Brian Enquist on the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology and the development of realistic quantitative models that analyse the influence of size on the structural and functional design of organisms.

Tags: Columbia University, Julian Schwinger, Francis Low

Duration: 1 minute, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008