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Doc Beene

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My mother liked me and believed in me
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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The influence of my mother was important, too, because she was very interested in promoting my... my future career. And she was... unlike my father, she was a very positive person. She had been bright when she was a girl and passed her high school courses with very good grades, but when I knew her she seemed to know very little. I don't quite understand how that happened, it may have been the result of some mental aberration, because she did show some, later on, some symptoms of mental illness, and this ignorance or even occasional stupidity may have been... connected with that, because... from every indication she was quite bright when she was a girl. But what was very positive about her was that she liked me and believed in me, and... wanted me to have a great career some day. And so she pursued various things, but particularly trying to get me into a private school with a full scholarship, because my father's language school started to fail just when I was born. The... stock market crash came a few weeks after I was born. The very drastic immigration law went into effect at the same... about the same time, and... both of those ended up seriously threatening the school that my father ran, the school of languages, so that within a few years the income had fallen virtually to zero. And it wasn't until 1933 that he got his job in a bank, which he kept until he retired. Very... it was a job at a very low salary. So we had very little money and I could go to a private school only if I had a full scholarship. Well she didn't succeed somehow, she dragged me to one school after another and I took lots of tests – I never knew what was going on, but... but finally a music teacher... had some... connection with somebody who had a connection with the Columbia Grammar School... or Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School if you want to use the longer name. And... in 1937 I got in there with a full scholarship, and they put me in the sixth grade so that I was... three years younger than most of the other students. And I stayed there until I graduated from high school. I stayed for seven years: 1937 to 1944. And... it was when I was admitted there that we moved back to Manhattan, in fact just across the street from the school.

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: Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, Manhattan

Duration: 3 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008