Murray Gell-Mann died

May 27, 2019 • 12:30 pm

UPDATE: There is a celebration of Gell-Man’s life, “Remembering Murray“, at the Edge website, where many physicists, friends, and physicist-friends pay tribute to the man.



By now most of you probably know that famed physicist Murray Gell-Mann died Friday at the age of 89. He won the Nobel Prize in 1969 for “for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions”. I have no time (nor the requisite knowledge) to detail his accomplishments, but here’s a short video of Gell-Mann describing how he learned he got the Nobel Prize.

23 thoughts on “Murray Gell-Mann died

  1. I remember seeing a TED talk or something like it where Gell-Mann talked some about religion and God. He said it was his view that we live in a world of natural law. He was not, it seems, religious. Great guy.

    1. Quark is pronounced with a heavy Irish accent. It also should rhyme with ‘Mark’. I doubt anyone recorded James Joyce saying it.

      1. Oh, it seems they did record Joyce reading his works in the 1920s…now give me time to trawl through and find out once and for all how to say it.

      2. I don’t think so! Gell-Mann made it quite clear that he planned to spell it kwork before he found the Joyce quote. In the line “Three quarks for Muster Mark” the two words don’t have to rhyme. In fact Mark rhymes with bark in the next line.

        [M. Gell-Mann (1995). The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. Henry Holt and Co. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-8050-7253-2.]

        1. (Waiting for the Eastern European contingent to chip in on the delights of творок – one of the crowning heights of Slavic cuisines. The German Delicatessan calls it “quark”.)

  2. An illustration that even the greatest among us will eventually die. And he definitely was among those.
    He appeared so immortal, but still…

  3. A lovely interview. I’ll bet that in later life Nick came to appreciate that photo of himself in his pirate costume on the front page of the Los Angeles Times alongside his Nobel prize-winning dad!

  4. A great man who made great contributions to multiple fields, and those contributions continue to echo through to today. He will be missed.

  5. Like most everything on this site, I must admit his work was well above my head, but being unable to comprehend his science does not prevent me from appreciating it. I sometimes think that the intellectual gap between me and a four year old child is far less than that between myself and any number of, or more honestly, all scientists. Our world is better for them being here, however temporary that may be.

    1. Even though I’m a scientist, I have to admit I’m in the same boat. Couldn’t get through “The Quark and the Jaguar.” Though I guess I can’t really say whether that’s because (a) it’s just difficult material, or (b) he’s not as good of a science writer as others, or (c) his co-author isn’t as good a writer as many others.

      In any event, rest in peace to a great contributor to humanity.

  6. A great man and a great scientist, who will long be honoured for his pioneering and definitive work on particle physics.

    At the same time, he does seem to have been a difficult chap to work with. The (London) Times records his antagonistic relationship with Feynman, as well as some of his unpleasant put-downs: Abraham Pais was, apparently “the evil dwarf”; Yang and Lee were “those two Chinamen from New York”; and “when meeting anyone new, he would correct their pronunciation of their name”.

    Still, an historic figure. Long live his memory.

      1. That “bit of a character” is like the British English pronunciation of “stark staring mad” as “eccentric”.
        Which rhymes with “hatstand”.

  7. “If I have seen further than others, it is because I am surrounded by dwarfs.” Gell-Mann

  8. This isn’t on the front page of the BBC or the Guardian, despite him being the man who named the quark.

  9. His name will live on outside physics in the Gell-Mann amnesia effect, described in Wikipedia as:
    “The Gell-Mann Amnesia effect describes the phenomenon of an expert believing news articles on topics outside of their field of expertise, even after acknowledging that articles written in the same publication that are within the expert’s field of expertise are error-ridden and full of misunderstanding.”
    (Though to be fair, the effect was named by Michael Crichton after a discussion with MG-M.) Who has not felt contempt for a news article on a topic we understand intimately, then failed to realise that all other articles from that source are likely to be equally shaky?

  10. The reminiscences at the Edge site are entertaining and well worth reading.

    BTW, I find all the headlines about MG-M “naming the quark” amusing, as if that was his contribution. A rose by any other name…

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