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A paper on current quarks


Naming quarks
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I had been calling them quarks most of the year, but I supposed it was probably spelled k-w-o-r-k or something like that. It seemed the right sound for a new particle that was the fundamental constituent of nuclei and so on, but I didn't know how to spell it. But then paging through Finnegans Wake, which I had done often since my brother had brought home the first American printing in 1939, paging through Finnegans Wake I saw 'Three quarks for Muster Mark!', and of course it’s 'quark', it rhymes with a whole bunch of things; mark, bark, and so on and so forth. But I wanted to pronounce it ‘kwork’ so I invented an excuse for pronouncing it kwork–namely that Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, whose dream is Finnegans Wake, is the book, is a publican. In fact later on I visited the pub, in Mullingar, the Mullingar, no the Mullingar Pub [sic] it is, just… just near Dublin. And so a number of things in the book are calls for drinks at the bar. Of course the words are multiply determined; they're portmanteau words as in Alice. And the meanings are multiply determined, but one determinant is often calls for drinks at the bar: ‘Three passe porterpease’ for example, has something to do with ‘Three pots of porter, please’. And so here I figured that one of the contributors toward, to ‘Three quarks for Muster Mark!’ might be ‘Three quarts for Mister Mark!’ And it may in fact be true. But if quart is one of the multiple origins, then you would be entitled to pronounce it kwork. So anyway, I put in the reference to Finnegans Wake; in the American edition it's page 383, which is just perfect... in that first American printing it's page 383, which is very good. 383 bar, would be even better, but you can't get a page number 383 bar. But that was very good.

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: Finnegans Wake, Muster Mark, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, Mullingar House, Dublin

Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008