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The many varied courses at Yale

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The unwritten letter of thanks
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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They suggested that, as long as I was there, that I do something that they wanted, namely, to write a letter of thanks to the unknown benefactor who had set up the Medill McCormick scholarship. And I tried to do that, but I couldn't do it because I associated those names with the extreme right wing family of Bertie McCormick, the owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, and Joseph Medill Patterson of the New York Daily News who had similar views. I felt that these people were more or less on the wrong side in the war, and was very upset at the idea of thanking some member of that family for this scholarship without at the same time complaining about it. At that time, I had left-wing views which dissipated about a year later, or maybe a few months later, but I still had them at this moment, and I… I found it very hard to write the letter and in the end I didn't write it. Then, 30 years later in a garden in Aspen Colorado, I met Treenie Barnes, Katrina McCormick Barnes, who now lives near here in Santa Fe, a wonderful, wonderful woman, and I found out that she was the unknown benefactor. And she hated Bertie McCormick, she hated everything that whole crew stood for, and when her parents died and she inherited a portion of the fortune she didn't want to have anything to do with it. She hired a secretary and rented an office and gave it all away. And one thing she gave it for was the Medill McCormick scholarship, named in honor of her dead brother who died as a very young man, a boy in fact, and didn't have a chance to go to the university.

[Q] Did… what about..?

If I had sent that letter complaining about politics she would have loved it.

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: Medill McCormick Scholarship, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Aspen, Colorado, Bertie McCormick, Joseph Medill Patterson, Treenie Barnes

Duration: 2 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008