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Scientists I've known
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I've known a number of prominent, physicists especially, quite well.

[Q] But who have you been most impressed with?

Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, Szilárd... Leó, Wolfgang Pauli, and I knew Niels Bohr slightly and I knew Heisenberg.  I didn't think much of Heisenberg as a researcher after the war although I understand he was a really great researcher and great person before the war. I don't know, many of these people I knew, and a certain number of stories about them, but...

[Q] I was trying to elicit...

... I don't think, I… I don’t think I can give a very good appreciation of their roles. I just gave the Oppenheimer Lecture, the first one, at Berkeley, a couple of days ago, and there I gave some impressions of Robert, whom I liked very much despite the fact that he could occasionally be difficult. And I was so sad that he was a victim of such injustice as a result of adopting the army position on nuclear weapons instead of the air force position on nuclear weapons, even though the air force position wasn't that bad, I didn't think that people should be persecuted for taking a different position. Enrico was extremely funny, and...  We had a great time at Chicago, I must say. There was quite a lunch table we had almost every day with Fermi, Yuri, and other people who were quite good like Mullican, and sometimes Szilárd. The conversation wasn't quite as fascinating as one would expect from listing these people, but it was sometimes quite amusing. Enrico was much taken with the funny papers, especially Li'l Abner. He spent a lot of time quoting Li'l Abner, of which he was inordinately fond. His friend, Gian Carlo Wick, whose mother was a novelist and who was very literary in his tastes, I think got him a subscription once to something like the Virginia Quarterly [sic] or the Sewanee Review, but Enrico much preferred L'il Abner.

[Q] How about people in more recent times?

Well Dick Feynman and I, of course, had offices just about next door to each other for 33 years, so I knew him pretty well. A great clown who was also a good scientist, although not quite the giant that some people make out, he was a very good scientist, and… and we had a lot of fun together, at least in the early years.

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: Oppenheimer Lecture, BerkeleyChicago, Virginia Quarterly Review, Sewanee Review, L'il Abner, Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, Leó Szilárd, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Dick Feynman

Duration: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010