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Trying to make a reliable computer out of unreliable parts


Work on Radar System at the University of Illinois
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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During the summer of ’51 I was in Urbana, Illinois, the University of Illinois. Sid Dancoff who was one of the people at the institute, invited me to come... invited Keith Brueckner and me, to come and participate in a classified project. It was in connection with the effort to develop a radar system for defense against airplane attacks. And the Korean War was on then, it had started in June 1950 and was still going strong at that time, and it stimulated this project to try to develop this system. But in... in connection with that, the project that Dancoff... with which Dancoff was concerned, involved an institution called the Control Systems Laboratory which wanted to look at problems related to control of a big radar system in a very general way by inviting a lot of biologists, a lot of what we would now call information theorists and so on. And so I got to meet very interesting people from a great variety of fields. It was sort of a... a foreshadowing of the Santa Fe Institute in a way. There were many wonderful biologists including Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Buzzati... or was it Buzzati [sic] or Buzzati? I forget, one or the other. Maybe Buzzati. And... Buzzati-Traverso, I guess was his name... and Colin Pittendrigh and a number of other biologists. And then people who worked on cybernetics like Mackay. I forget whether Warren McCulloch showed up – I think he did. Then Heinz von Foerster, the electrical engineer was a professor at Urbana, so he was around part of the time.

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: University of Illinois, Korean War, Control Systems Laboratory, Santa Fe Institute, Sid Dancoff, Keith Brueckner, Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Adriano Buzzati-Traverso, Colin Pittendrigh, Donald Mackay, Warren McCulloch, Heinz von Foerster

Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008