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How I ended up studying physics at Yale


Studying elementary physics - reluctantly
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I had already tried to study physics because... I tried to study all the subjects at home first, long before I learnt them in school, and I tried to study physics and I just couldn't get interested in what they called elementary physics. And the course in school...

[Q] Inclined planes and...

Terrible. The seven kinds of simple machine: the inclined plane, the screw, the pulley and... and we had to calculate mechanical advantage by counting strings on pulleys and... it was really... it seemed so silly. Then the course mentioned and discussed a little bit of different phenomena: light, heat, wave motion, electricity, magnetism, and so on. But it didn't hint that these were all connected somehow, or most of them were connected somehow. They were all different subjects, and that struck me as extremely peculiar.

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: education, physics, planes, screws, pulleys, light, heat, wave motion, electricity, magnetism

Duration: 57 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008