Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Joyce’s Contributions to Physics

James Joyce is responsible for the quark.

Sort of. Actually, Murray Gell-Mann had a lot
to do with it too. Gell-Mann, an American
physicist, was born in 1929. He won the
Nobel Prize in 1969 for his study of sub-
atomic particles. He, along with his associate
George Zweig, was responsible for the quark
theory which hypothesized that quarks are
the smallest particles of matter (quarks
being particles that carry fractional internal
linkelectric charges. Or to be more precise:

“quark (kwôrk, kwärk) noun
Any of a group of hypothetical elementary
particles having electric charges of magnitude
one-third or two-thirds that of the electron,
regarded as constituents of all hadrons.”

Gell-Mann named the quark after a passage in
Finnegans Wake: “Three quarks for Master Mark,
Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark, And sure any
he has it’s beside the mark.”

Gell-Mann wrote of this in a private letter of June
27, 1978, to the editor of the Oxford English
Dictionary, which said that he had actually been
influenced by Joyce's word in naming the particle.

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