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Julian Schwinger


Anti-ballistic missiles and strategy
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I worked on the problem of anti-ballistic missiles and strategy in the summer of ’62 and again in the summer of ’63, in company with a lot of very interesting people. And we wrote a report in ’63 summarizing our conclusions, but the trouble was that we included in the report estimates of numbers of nuclear weapons—which was a very, very highly classified piece of information until quite recently. As a result the classification level of the report was very high and very few people read it. I didn't realize that that was a big problem. I assumed the important people in government had plenty of clearances and that it wouldn't matter. But somehow it did matter and the report was not so very influential. But the point of view ultimately prevailed. After many, many, many years there finally was a treaty, SALT 1, that required both the US and the Soviet Union to exercise very great restraint in deploying these systems. Each side could have one and the United States chose to have it...to have the anti-ballistic missile system protecting a missile base, which is stabilizing, instead of having it protecting a big metropolitan area, which would be destabilizing. So, things came out all right in that... in that department, but it took a long, long time.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was 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: USA, Soviet Union

Duration: 1 minute, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008