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Begrudgingly signing my name to a paper with Feynman

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A brush with the CIA
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I have to mention something that happened while we were writing the article. A… a man came in who said he worked for the government and showed us a badge - it was like he was obviously from the CIA - and he said, ‘Are you Murray Gell-Mann?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I'd like to talk with you - alone.’ Well, Art Rosenfeld was upset; he went down to the library to work on our article while I was interviewed by this government person who wanted to talk with me alone. And he said, ‘You were recently in Russia?’ I said, ‘Yes’. He said, and he was reading from a piece of paper but he obviously didn't understand what was on the piece of paper, he was some low-level person that didn't know what he was saying, he was just reading from this telegram that he'd got. And he said, ‘You were there and we heard that recently the…’ ...how did this work... ‘recently a prize was awarded, a Stalin prize or Lenin prize, or something of that kind, was awarded for prediction of catalysis of fusion reactions by muons and… and that the work was experimentally confirmed. Now you've visited a lot of Soviet laboratories. Will you tell us in which laboratory this confirmation was carried out?’ And I said, ‘Oh yes, I think I know what you're talking about.’ In the meantime I had wrenched the paper away from him, I wasn't supposed to look at this piece of paper, it was classified or something, but I had–since he was stumbling over it so much—I had wrenched the paper away and read it and then I understood what he was asking, because he didn't understand enough to ask the question intelligibly. I said ‘Oh, I see, you mean this award of a prize for predicting muon catalysis, and the announcement that somewhere in some laboratory this had been confirmed. Well the laboratory was not in the Soviet Union. It was confirmed at Berkeley, at the radiation lab, by the man you just threw out of the room–and his collaborators.’ He didn't see the humor. That was very funny. But, anyway, in that article we put in the universal Fermi interaction: the last stand. We describe the vector plus axial vector, the electron spinning the other way, the interaction being really universal, the coupling constants coming out okay, and all these experiments having to be wrong.

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: CIA, Russia, Soviet Union, Berkeley, Art Rosenfeld

Duration: 3 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008