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'Physicists are remarkably flexible people'

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The future of science
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I probably am not very good at making predictions about such things, but I'm sure that in, at the… at least the early decades of the coming century, these problems of simplicity and complexity will be very important. Molecular biologists have found this very simple genetic code, the theory that they've had to use they could generate themselves. They've pretty much looked down on theory as a separate activity, but now when one comes to questions of the stretches of DNA that are not so far interpreted and don't seem to code for proteins, when one comes especially to ideas about genes turning one another on and off in a regulatory network, I think everyone will have to admit that theory is quite important and we can see this in so many other domains, in so many different subjects and in topics that transcend a subject, that transcend fields, interdisciplinary topics, that the interaction between simplicity and complexity is really important, requires a lot of deep theoretical work, along with computer modeling and simulation, and of course experiment and observation. But I think these subjects are going to be very important. At the same time, fundamental physics I think will be important for quite a while. We're making huge strides right now in cosmology and in M theory and if the large hadron collider is built at CERN there will be high energy experiments that will be very exciting and may very well verify some of the ideas of supersymmetry, superstrings, M-theory. I think it's going to be a very exciting time. I just hope I live to see some of 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: CERN

Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010