Nobel laureate; Professor Emeritus, California Institute of Technology; & Distinguished Fellow, Sante Fe Institute
The recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1969, Murray Gell-Mann is a giant in his field, his work having revolutionized the way scientists understand elementary particles. His "Eightfold Way"—an analogy with Buddha's Eightfold Path to Enlightenment and bliss—brought order to the chaos created by the discovery of some one hundred particles in the atom's nucleus. He then discovered that all of those particles, including neutrons and protons, are composed of smaller, more fundamental building blocks. With others, he developed the quantum field theory called quantum chromodynamics, and, again demonstrating his ability to bridge culture and science, Gell-Mann suggested the name "quark" to refer to the fundamental particles, borrowing the term from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. A child prodigy, Gell-Mann entered Yale University at age 15 and had his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by the age of 22. He is the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Theoretical Physics Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, where he taught for many years, and he is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Sante Fe Institute. He has earned many honorary degrees and other awards besides the Nobel Prize, including the 1989 Erice "Science for Peace" Prize. His extensive writings include the popular book The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex.
© 2006 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.