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Working on the renormalization group with Francis Low (Part 1)

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The assistant professorship at Chicago
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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The summer of ’53, I spent another hot summer in Urbana, the temperature was often at 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Francis and I were so fascinated by what we were doing that we hardly noticed. And occasionally we were allowed to use one of the air-conditioned rooms.

[Q] Why, incidentally, were you back in Illinois that… that summer?

Well… 

[Q] Was Francis  there, incidentally? Francis was at the university…

Yes, Francis was there by then. What happened was that they had an assistant professorship open, and Francis and I both applied for it because these jobs, these ten-year track jobs at reasonably respectable universities were still scarce, as they had been a year or two earlier. My instructorship at Chicago was eventually going–I think it was for one or two years–it was eventually going to expire, and if the Chicago people didn't promote me to assistant professor I would have to be assistant professor somewhere else. I gave lectures at Wisconsin, Minnesota,  Indiana... all the… Purdue—all the mid-Western universities— and they were all somewhat interested in having me as an assistant professor. The one I liked best I thought was Urbana, University of Illinois, and they offered me the professorship. They hesitated between Francis and me because they liked the work we had done together and they didn't know which one to offer the job to. But after a while they… they offered it to me, and I was ready to take it. And I went in and told the head of the Institute of Nuclear Studies, Sam Allison, that I had this offer. And he said, ‘Well, I'm sure you'll have a very distinguished career at the University of Illinois.’ But then Murph and Ed Adams complained to Enrico  and to Sam, saying that they should try to keep me. And so before long, sure enough, there was an offer: assistant professorship at Chicago. I didn't like living in Chicago but it was such a great university and the group was so wonderful, the scientists were so distinguished that I felt I would just stay on there. And… and then they offered the job in Urbana to Francis. He took it and in the summer of ’53 I went down there and collaborated with him. It was wonderful working together; it was very, very nice. And there were a lot of very good people around: TD Lee was there that summer. I knew him from the Institute for Advanced Study because  he was  in the ’51... he was in the ’51... ’52 contingent,  and a number of other people. We had a very good time that summer. And Francis and I worked very hard.

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 Chicago, Urbana, University of Illinois, Institute of Nuclear Studies, Institute for Advance Study, Francis Low, Samuel Allison, Murph Goldberger, Ed Adams, Enrico Fermi, TD Lee

Duration: 2 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008