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The unwritten letter of thanks

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How World War II affected the graduate program at Yale
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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Well, the war of course impoverished the teaching staff because they were… many of them were off to war. Margenau was not. Leigh Page was around – he wasn't off to the war, so I took his course, his graduate courses and so on. But the war ended rather soon. I mean the war ended only less than a year… just under a year after I arrived at Yale, and then people started drifting back from their wartime jobs. But still Yale was very weak in modern physics, modern theoretical physics, and relied on Gregory Breit to supply that, but Gregory Breit was so strange that it wasn't quite satisfactory.

[Q] And so you graduated in ’48?

Yes.

[Q] An…  and then you ultimately went to MIT.

I… I should have graduated in January ’48, and I discussed with people at the university whether to graduate in June ’47 or June ’48, because I didn't want to graduate in January, it didn't seem to me sensible. Because of the war system, I had finished my courses by January. They suggested that I graduate a term early and get a Henry Fellowship to Cambridge, but it was a day late for applying to the Henry Fellowship, and they wouldn't compromise. So then the scholarship office gave me a scholarship for the ninth… for the ninth term.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann is 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: World War II, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Leigh Page, Gregory Breit

Duration: 1 minute, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008