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1962 International Conference at Geneva and the birth of quarks

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Re-writing the Eightfold Way paper and publishing in 1962
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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The Eightfold Way report had the Yang-Mills theory of the strong interaction based on SU(3) as well as using SU(3) for classification. Then people started telling me that if evidence, the experimental evidence favored a sigma and lambda with different parity, that the relative parity of sigma and lambda was negative instead of positive–experimentally. It wasn't true, but it worried me a lot and I began to wonder whether we shouldn't go back to the other model which was like the one proposed by Sakata but which we had worked on actually independently without publishing them. So in the summer when I lectured in India I scarcely mentioned the Eightfold Way, even though the name was inspired by oriental religions–as a joke of course. But then in the fall I came back to the Eightfold Way and re-wrote the paper completely, starting with the… essentially the Sakata model but then modifying it to give the Eightfold Way. And what I was doing in that paper then was sort of groping toward quarks, because I used the three fundamental particles in one part of the paper and then I threw them away and just went to the abstraction of the SU(3) in the latter part of the paper. I also got rid of the Yang-Mills theory for the strong interaction because I was too worried about the clash between the strong charges and the weak charges in the same charge space. And I put in a lot of pole dominance, which was very useful, and a whole bunch of other things. And the… so the paper wasn't published actually until 1962, but it contained a lot of very good material by that time. As a result of all this back-ing and fro-ing it was quite a good paper. I was told later it was at the… at the time the most cited paper in something or other, maybe in the Physical Review, and that made me feel pretty good, even though the number of citations doesn't tell you whether a paper is good or not. Then I realized later on that the only reason it was the most cited paper was that it was the paper in which I had introduced in print the eight lambda matrices for the Eightfold Way. And all these papers that cited it were really just citing these matrices which were a three by three generalization of Pauli's two by two matrices! Meant nothing at all that it was the most-cited paper! Yeah, they became known as the Gell-Mann matrices, of course. Is that right? Yes,many people refer to them as the Gell-Mann matrices. I didn't know that. But anyway, it was funny. The… but all these questions and hesitations remained and I had to work them out and other people had to work them out over the years. The experiment on the red and blue neutrinos was finally done, in 1962 and I was upset that they never mentioned my speech that they had heard–but of course I should have published. Anyway they cited Yang and Lee and Feinberg and so on. But that cleared up the question. There were now four particles: electron, muon, and two neutrinos among the leptons. So that should make it much more plausible then to introduce a fourth degree of freedom for the hadrons. But I didn't do that. Glashow and Bjorken did it in ’64, but they didn't really draw the important conclusions from it they should have.

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: India, Shoichi Sakata, Wolfgang Pauli, TD Lee, Chen Ning Yang, Gerald Feinberg, Sheldon Lee Glashow, James Bjorken

Duration: 3 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008