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A brush with the CIA


'The Last Stand of the Universal Fermi Interaction'
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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Art Rosenfeld and I started to write an article for the Annual Reviews of Nuclear Science [sic] on elementary particle physics–including the weak interaction–and in the course of writing that article we began to wonder whether the scalar and tensor assignment was really correct, whether it might not be vector and axial vector. In which case you could really have a real universal Fermi interaction compatible… Fermi interaction compatible with a intermediate boson and so on, instead of this messy scalar and tensor thing… stuff. Well, we ran into George Sudarshan and Bob Marshak, and George had been looking at this as a student of Marshak. And he had concluded that the experimental evidence was suspect, that there were actually flaws in the experiments. We had a summit meeting at Rand, the Rand Corporation–I don't know, remember why it was at the Rand Corporation but that's where it was–with Marshak and Sudarshan and Rosenfeld and me, and I think Felix Boehm, the experimentalist from Caltech. And we talked about the whole set of issues, and we concluded that this idea was… was a good one. Now, in the meantime Rosenfeld and I had written it up in our article, we called it 'The Last Stand of the Universal Fermi Interaction'. We calculated all the numbers, we showed that they came out very good, the coupling constants all came out very closely equal and there was really no reason why this couldn't be true if only we could get over these experiments that allegedly pointed to S and T, and allegedly pointed to this electron spinning in a particular way. So we put it in there as 'The Last Stand of the Universal Fermi Interaction', we explained which experiments would have to be wrong, and so on. And I took it fairly seriously. I didn't mind publishing an idea in this vague form and besides, I knew that Sudarshan and Marshak had done a lot of the work and they were going to write it up.

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: Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science, Rand Corporation, Caltech, The Last Stand of the Universal Fermi Interaction, Art Rosenfeld, George Sudarshan, Bob Marshak, Felix Boehm

Duration: 2 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008