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Quarks as asymptotic states. Missed opportunities


Feynman's partons
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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Dick Feynman constructed a popularization of Bjorken's ideas that he called partons; ugly word with a Latin head and a Greek ending and… what it meant was quarks, basically—he didn't want to say quarks—quarks plus anti-quarks and gluons. The gluon is this neutral vector boson that we've been talking about all along. The name was invented, I think, by Teller… Teller, Eddie, for something else, for some neutral vector meson, strongly interacting meson.

[Q] The word gluon was invented.

The word gluon, yeah. Yes. But I used it to mean this vector, this vector boson that would hold the quarks together. And… and now in ’66 Nambu had suggested an octet of them, very close to the correct story. Anyway, what Feynman meant by partons—that ugly word—was quarks, anti-quarks and gluons. And it annoyed me that he didn't ever say that—well didn't say it until later, I should say; later on he did say it. But Feynman emphasized that… that what he was talking about, and it was basically Bjorken's idea; was that at high momentum transfers, these particles acted very much as if they were free, and  corrections to free behavior would be perturbative. But then at small momentum transfers, this was not the case. In small momentum transfers you would get the production of lots of soft pairs and so on and so on. And that's how you got the Pomeranchuk singularity and all of those things. And it's a very good idea. I commented on it a little bit writing about the light cone interpretation of it and with Fritzsch—Feynman developed it still further. Feynman of course, as usual, put it in a form so that the common people could use it, and experimentalists all over the world now thought they understood things because Feynman had put it in such simple language for them. And they were able to do these free particle… essentially free particle calculations, of form factors and all sorts of things. What it really accomplished then was the confirmation of the… of the quark picture, along with this new idea–basically Bjorken's idea, Feynman's idea– that at high momentum transfers, all of these particles, quarks, anti-quarks and gluons, were behaving nearly as if they were free. Obeying relations which could be abstracted not from quantum field theory, like the regular current algebra relations, but abstracted from the… from the first term of a perturbation expansion in the… in the coupling.

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: Dick Feynman, James Bjorken, Edward Teller, Yoichiro Nambu, Harald Fritzsch

Duration: 3 minutes, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010