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A cornucopia of early interests


Birdwatching with my brother
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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Very early on, when I was only five or so, I started to go out birdwatching with him. We… I grew up in Manhattan mostly, on Manhattan Island in New York where I was born, but for a while during the Depression we lived in the Bronx where the rents were lower, right near the Bronx Zoo. And just north of the Bronx Zoo is the tiny remaining area of Hemlock Forest, the original Hemlock Forest that covered the whole area before the Europeans arrived. And… my brother and I regarded New York as a Hemlock Forest that had been over-logged. We spent a lot of time then in this little piece of the forest that was still there. And… it was not only birds that interested us; we collected butterflies, we studied herbs and trees, herbs, bushes and trees, flowering plants in general. And it was just very exciting to learn to recognize all these things and to recognize their associations, and to know if you came to a certain area what kind of bird you would likely hear singing there, and so on and so forth.


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: Manhattan, New York, Depression, Bronx, Bronx Zoo, Hemlock Forest

Duration: 1 minute, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008