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The Han-Nambu picture


Piecing together the particle physics puzzle
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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There were a number of notions, all quite useful, that helped us to understand what was going on in particle physics. They hadn't been assembled into a real theory, but we understood lots and lots of pieces of the puzzle. And I at least had a suspicion, as many others did, that the solution would lie in a Yang-Mills theory for both the strong and the weak interactions of some kind, a soft mass mechanism of some kind. And what I didn't understand was that we would have to go to a new variable, color, so as to clear up this clash which kept getting in the way, between the… a Yang-Mills theory for the strong interactions, and a Yang-Mills theory for the weak ones. The clash was intolerable and we didn't know what to do about it.

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: Yang-Mills theory, soft mass mechanism, color variable, strong interactions, weak interactions

Duration: 54 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010