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Studying elementary physics - reluctantly


Doc Beene
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I had one very exciting teacher, Dow Bunyan Beene, called Doc Beene, because he was a Doctor of Divinity. He was, I think a Baptist minister from Georgia who had lost his faith in the divinity and was now a... a hard-drinking teacher who... talked a lot about sex also in the classes, and... he was wonderful. He was genuinely devoted to intellectual things. His... his subjects were Latin and Greek. The Columbia Grammar School had been known for Greek during the 19th century when Charles Anthon was the headmaster – he founded the American Numismatic Society and he was a famous Professor of Greek at Columbia, who wrote the textbook that most American children used for learning elementary Greek in the middle 19th century. But although that was a tradition, at that moment they didn't teach Greek. But he gave courses in Latin, and then he was used also to teach algebra, French, English and so on, whatever... whatever was needed. But I took Latin with him and I loved Latin anyway, it was particularly amusing to study it, in Doc Beene's class. Any question, any intellectual question, any question about fact or interpretation was exciting for him. And instead of giving some off-hand reply – probably wrong like most teachers – he would try to find out what the answer was. He would say, ‘Well, I don't know that. Why don't you go to the library, quickly look it up somewhere and then report back what you find?’ No matter what the question was, if he couldn't answer it. He was splendid.

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: Georgia, American Numismatic Society, Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, Columbia University, Dow Bunyan Beene, Charles Anthon

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008