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George Zweig


Back at Caltech; looking into triplets
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I got back to Caltech at the end of the summer, and there I seriously… began seriously to look into these triplets, these fractionally charged triplets and whether they would be confined. Yuval Ne'eman was there and we discussed it together, actually, and looked up some things in the library. My first question was about statistics, of course. You asked that before, and that’s naturally one’s first concern; if the fundamental triplet consists of fermions, then to get the… the right combinations would seem to require some very clumsy spatial wave function in order to get the wave function in spin and isotopic spin correct, and so on and so forth. All of these things were a problem. It'd be much better if they were symmetrical, if they were bosonic; but how can you put together three bosons to make a fermion? It's impossible. So the first thing I thought of was this idea of parastatistics that somebody had told me about at MIT, in the spring. So we looked up a paper on parastatistics and we tried to see whether by putting together three parafermions of rank three we could get out a fermion. In that case the quarks could be parafermions of rank three and the nucleon would be–or the baryon would be a fermion, and everything would be okay. Unfortunately the paper we used was wrong–as you've all pointed out many years later–and so we struggled and struggled and struggled and we couldn't prove that we would get a fermion out because we were using a… a mistaken… a paper that was a mistake. We should have done it ourselves, of course. I didn't understand then of course, that parafermions were exactly the same as taking fermions with three colors and then wiping out a lot of the resulting states. I didn't know that. But that would have made it very easy for us to do the calculation. So I… through this mistake in the paper that we used, I moved away from that idea and I decided to put the statistics question aside. And I didn't do so very much work on what I later called constituent quarks; that is quarks as constituents of the actual baryons and mesons, but worked rather on their current properties–the so-called current quarks. The question arose about how to write it up, and during the fall I struggled with that a little bit. As soon as I got back to Caltech I called Viki Weisskopf, who was then the Director General of CERN, about something, I don't remember what the subject of the phone call was, but while I was talking with him I mentioned this notion that the nucleon was actually made up of three things with fractional charge which were trapped inside and so on and so on. And he said, ‘Please, Murray, this is a long distance call.’ implying that I shouldn't waste his time with this idea.

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: Caltech, MIT, CERN, Yuval Ne'eman, Victor Weisskopf

Duration: 3 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008