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The role of Pais; associated production


Confirming the theory
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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They were doing experimental work on these particles at the Brookhaven accelerator. And I called up Courtenay Wright of our lab, who was visiting Brookhaven, and I said, ‘Courtenay, I understand they've found an event with a charged peculiar meson and a charged peculiar baryon. Is that right? He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Well, which was which, which was positive and which was negative?’ He said, ‘Oh, I don't know, does it matter?’ And I said, ‘Yes! It matters - because one of them is allowed and one of them is forbidden!’ Then he said, ‘I'll check’, and he left the phone for a little while, then he came back and he said that it was a… a positive meson and negative baryon. And I let out a whoop which he didn't understand at all because it confirmed the theory. And then it turned out there was a great excess of positive over negatives which nobody could explain in the cosmic rays as well as in the machines. So it looked as if, it began to look as if maybe it was right. Then I wrote up two other pre-prints which I never published. Herb Anderson at the Institute of Nuclear Studies was–who later lived out here and whose widow Jean still lives…  Still lives here, yes. …here. Well, I guess they were divorced at the very end and he married someone younger, but anyway, Jean still lives here. Herb Anderson was very enthusiastic about my work. He taught it in his class and he was very excited about it. And then Herb came rushing in to me one day and said, ‘Hey, do you know they've found a cascade particle? Can you explain that?’ And so I wrote another note called ‘On the Classification of Particles’ listing all the things that the theory would allow. And the cascade of course was one of them, and I predicted that it would–this was a negative one they'd found which I labelled psi minus—and I suggested that there had to be a psi zero, and of course when the psi zero was found they sent me the photo, which I had on the wall for a long time. If I can find it I'm going to put it back on the wall. Similarly, I predicted the sigma zero, I named the sigmas and I predicted the sigma zero, and then that was found and so on and so forth. And it was extremely exciting.

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: Brookhaven accelerator, Institute of Nuclear Studies, Courtenay Wright, Herb Anderson

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008