Murray Gell-Mann's fortunate encounter with mathematician Richard Earl Block at Caltech, in the fall of 1960, "enlightened" him to introduce a novel classification scheme, in 1961, for hadrons, elementary particles that participate in the strong interaction. A similar scheme had been independently proposed by Yuval Ne'eman, and is now explained by the quark model. Gell-Mann referred to the scheme as the eightfold way, because of the octets of particles in the classification (the term is a reference to the Eightfold Path of Buddhism).
Gell-Mann, along with Maurice Lévy, developed the sigma model of pions, which describes low-energy pion interactions.
In 1964, Gell-Mann and, independently, George Zweig went on to postulate the existence of quarks, particles of which the hadrons of this scheme are composed. The name was coined by Gell-Mann and is a reference to the novel Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce ("Three quarks for Muster Mark!" book 2, episode 4). Zweig had referred to the particles as "aces", but Gell-Mann's name caught on. Quarks, antiquarks, and gluons were soon established as the underlying elementary objects in the study of the structure of hadrons. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969 for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions.
In the 1960s, he introduced current algebra as a method of systematically exploiting symmetries to extract predictions from quark models, in the absence of reliable dynamical theory. This method led to model-independent sum rules confirmed by experiment and provided starting points underpinning the development of the Standard Model (SM), the widely accepted theory of elementary particles.
He wrote a popular science book about physics and complexity science, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex (1994). The title of the book is taken from a line of a poem by Arthur Sze: "The world of the quark has everything to do with a jaguar circling in the night".
The author George Johnson has written a biography of Gell-Mann, Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann, and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics (1999), which was shortlisted for the Royal Society Book Prize. Gell-Mann himself criticized Strange Beauty for some inaccuracies, with one interviewer reporting him wincing at the mention of it. In a review in the Caltech magazine Engineering & Science, Gell-Mann's colleague, the physicist David Goodstein, wrote: "I don't envy Murray the weird experience of reading so penetrating and perceptive a biography of himself. . . . George Johnson has written a fine biography of this important and complex man." Physicist and Nobel laureate Philip Anderson, called the book "a masterpiece of scientific explication for the layman" and a "must read" in a review for the Times Higher Education Supplement and in his chapter on Gell-Mann from a 2011 book.Sheldon Lee Glashow, another Nobel laureate, gave Strange Beauty a generally positive review while noting some inaccuracies, and physicist and science historian Silvan S. Schweber called the book "an elegant biography of one of the outstanding theorists of the twentieth century" though he noted that Johnson did not go into depth about Gell-Mann's work with military-industrial organizations like the Institute for Defense Analyses. Johnson has written that Gell-Mann was a perfectionist and that The Quark and the Jaguar was consequently submitted late and incomplete. In an item on Edge.org, Johnson described the back story of his relationship with Gell-Mann and noted that an errata sheet appears on the biography's webpage. Gell-Mann's one-time Caltech associate Stephen Wolfram called Johnson's book "a very good biography of Murray, which Murray hated". Wolfram also wrote that Gell-Mann thought the writing of The Quark and the Jaguar to be responsible for a heart attack he (Gell-Mann) had had.
In 2012 Gell-Mann and his companion Mary McFadden published the book Mary McFadden: A Lifetime of Design, Collecting, and Adventure.
Gell-Mann died on May 24, 2019, at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was remembered by, among others, novelist Cormac McCarthy, who saw Murray as a polymath who "knew more things about more things than anyone I've ever met." "Losing Murray is like losing the Encyclopædia Britannica."
Awards and honors
Gell-Mann won numerous awards and honours including the following:
^Ellis, John (2011). "Prospects for New Physics at the LHC". In Fritzsch, Harald; Phua, K. K.; Baaquie, B. E. (eds.). Proceedings of the Conference in Honour of Murray Gell-Mann's 80th Birthday: Quantum Mechanics, Elementary Particles, Quantum Cosmology and Complexity : Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, February 24–26, 2010. World Scientific. ISBN9789814335607.
^Cao, Tian Yu (2010). From Current Algebra to Quantum Chromodynamics: A Case for Structural Realism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN9781139491600.
^Herman Wouk (2010). The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion. Hachette Digital, Inc. ISBN9780316096751. Feynman, Gell-Mann, Weinberg, and their peers accept Newton's incomparable stature and shrug off his piety, on the kindly thought that the old man got into the game too early. ... As for Gell-Mann, he seems to see nothing to discuss in this entire God business, and in the index to The Quark and the Jaguar God goes unmentioned. Life he called a "complex adaptive system", which produces interesting phenomena such as the jaguar and Murray Gell-Mann, who discovered the quark. Gell-Mann is a Nobel-class tackler of problems, but for him the existence of God is not one of them.
^"Murray Gell-Mann 1966". US Department of Energy, Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award. May 3, 2016. Archived from the original on May 22, 2017. Retrieved May 25, 2019. For his contributions of the highest significance to the theory of elementary and theoretical work in the field of physics.
Fritzsch, H.; Gell-Mann, M. (1972). "Current algebra- quarks and what else?". In Jackson, J.D.; Roberts, A.; International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (eds.). Proceedings of the XVI International Conference on High Energy Physics. 2. National Accelerator Laboratory. pp. 135–165. OCLC57672574.