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Major issues in science


'Physicists are remarkably flexible people'
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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Physicists are remarkably flexible, actually, as people. Physicists end up doing all kinds of things. People trained in physics show up in remarkable places. For example W Edwards Deming was trained as a physicist, he had a PhD in physics from Yale; then he became a New Deal statistician; then he was sent over to Japan at the end of the war to try to help rebuild Japanese industry, and he made all these wonderful suggestions about how to do that, he's a saint in Japan; and finally by the time he was 90 or so, he even acquired a reputation in his own country. He died at the age of 93 or something like that–just before my book came out. Remark… all sorts of people started as physicists, now whether the departments make these adjustments, the same adjustments as their members, that's another story, but some of them do, I think. I think physics departments have been rather generous about spawning other subjects within their bosoms. Bragg at Cambridge pretty much destroyed the old tradition of fundamental physics, but he built up solid-state physics and he built up radio astronomy and molecular biology, giving them an initial home in the physics lab, in the Cavendish. I think that was quite remarkable, even though I deplored what he did with elementary particle physics, I think he's greatly to be admired for hosting radio astronomy and molecular biology. So I think it's not improbable at all, various departments will… will adapt. But as to predicting the general course of science, I don't think… I don’t think I'd be very good at doing that.

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: Yale University, Japan, University of Cambridge, Cavendish Laboratory, W Edwards Deming, William Lawrence Bragg

Duration: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010