The Caltech Institute Archives

Interview with Murray Gell-Mann

Gell-Mann, Murray (2013) Interview with Murray Gell-Mann. [Oral History]

PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


An interview in two sessions, July 1997, with Murray Gell-Mann, Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Theoretical Physics, emeritus. Dr. Gell-Mann was on the faculty of Caltech’s Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy from 1955 until 1993. In this anecdotal interview tracing his career to 1960, he begins by recalling his Manhattan childhood during the Depression, family background, early education at Columbia Grammar School. Discusses his undergraduate years at Yale, graduate work at MIT with Victor Weisskopf, courses at Harvard with Norman Ramsey and Julian Schwinger—followed in 1951 by two terms at Institute for Advanced Study, working with Francis Low on a problem in quantum field theory. Summer 1951, University of Illinois, works on complex systems with Keith Brueckner; interaction with John von Neumann. Joins University of Chicago’s Institute for Nuclear Studies, headed by Enrico Fermi; recalls such colleagues as M. L. Goldberger, Leo Szilard, Harold Urey, Gerald Wasserburg; works on dispersion relations and pseudoscalar meson theory with Goldberger. At University of Illinois, summer 1953, works with Low on elementary-particle field theory, invents the renormalization group; comments on later contributions of Petermann & Stueckelberg, his student Kenneth Wilson. His early work at Caltech on what was later called S-matrix theory; comments on contribution to superstring theory. Meets future wife, Margaret Dow; travels in Scotland with her, 1954; their marriage. Recruited to Caltech by R. P. Feynman; life in Pasadena; visits Bohr Institute, Copenhagen, summer 1955; Spain, France, and the U.K. Back at Caltech fall 1956, teaches quantum mechanics course. Recollections of Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer, Stewart Harrison. Comments on undergraduate education at Caltech and vain efforts to promote behavioral and social sciences there. Work at RAND, 1956; paper with Brueckner; objections by Brueckner and Tatsuro Sawada; contributions of Bill Karzas, Don DuBois, Jeffrey Goldstone. Annual Review of Nuclear Science article on “last stand of the universal Fermi Interaction” with Arthur Rosenfeld; related work by Marshak & Sudarshan; Feynman’s approach; their collaboration; later work by Yang & Lee. Comments on origins of the Eightfold Way. Preoccupation with symmetry, supermultiplets, weak and strong interactions, Yang-Mills theory. Collaboration with Maurice Lévy et al., in France, 1959, on the axial vector current in beta decay.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:Physics, particle physics
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Gell-Mann_M
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Gell-Mann, Murray. Interview by Sara Lippincott. Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico, July 1997. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:All Records
Subjects > Physics
ID Code:228
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:06 Dec 2013 20:16
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:24

Repository Staff Only: item control page