American physicist who helped introduce the concept of quarks. He received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1969 for his contributions to the description and classification of subatomic particles.
Our Living Language : Physicists have long sought the fundamental building blocks of matter. The atoms that make up the elements appeared to be good candidates, but further investigation into the structure of the atom led to the identification of even smaller subunits, such as the proton and the neutron. With the advent of particle accelerators, dozens more hitherto unknown subatomic particles were discovered, flying out of high-energy particle collisions. Physicist Murray Gell-Mann helped bring order into the chaos of what was called the particle zoo, eventually winning the Nobel Prize for his work in 1969. Gell-Mann, born in 1929, was a child prodigy who entered Yale at age 15 and is today considered to be one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. Much of his career was spent at the California Institute of Technology, where his sometime collaborator and rival Richard Feynman also taught. Gell-Mann saw that the hundreds of new subatomic particles could be arranged in patterns, similar to the patterns of the periodic table. Always ready with an evocative name for a new discovery, he called his classification scheme "The Eightfold Way," after Buddha's Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. Gell-Mann found that the patterns he saw could be explained by assuming that these unexpected particles were simply combinations of a few fundamental building blocks. Gell-Mann called these particles quarks, after a line in James Joyce's notoriously difficult novel Finnegans Wake, and showed how properties of quarks corresponded with certain abstract algebraic structures.