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Bjorken's idea


Lecturing in Cambridge, England
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I gave some lectures at the Cavendish on quarks. Dirac attended faithfully. As usual he sat in the back and fell asleep–well, no, I don't know if he was in the back, but as usual he fell asleep, immediately, at the beginning of each lecture and then woke up right at the end. And as usual he asked brilliant questions despite the fact that he had been asleep. Nobody ever understood quite how he did that, whether he was just pretending to be asleep, or whether somehow he... something got through to him despite his being asleep, or whether he was able to ask brilliant questions even without hearing the talk. I don't know what it was. Anyway, the questions indicated that he very, very much liked the quarks. Now, in 1966 that was not usual. Most people in our community thought they were sort of crank, that I had gone bananas and so on. So I… afterwards I asked him. I said, 'Paul Adrien, what is it you like about the quarks? You obviously… they obviously appeal to you a great deal'. He said, 'Oh, oh yes. They do have spin one-half, don't they?' What he meant was, not just that they had spin one-half, but that they obeyed his equation, with only minor corrections in certain some limit. And that proved to be more and more and more true, and these experiments that you mentioned were essential in uncovering that. Or they were essential in confirming rather, because some people had already conjectured it, that the... in the limit of short distances and high momentum transfer that the corrections to the Dirac equation behavior of the quarks would be quite small, sort of perturbative. The first person to suggest that was Bjorken, BJ. He had read my papers on current algebra and he suggested going beyond them, and essentially what he suggested was at least an approximate validity for current algebra equations near the light cone. I believe that's one way to say what he was doing.

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: Cambridge, UK, Cavendish Laboratory, Paul Dirac, James Bjorken

Duration: 2 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010