If he had been working on something that looked promising, that would have given me a perfectly legitimate reason to talk with him, and I would certainly have done so. But at that time, asking him about his life and his attitudes toward the world and toward physics was not something I felt comfortable doing. Nowadays, I would most likely not let such an opportunity go.

It is curious that ordinary people everywhere seem to have chosen Einstein as a symbol of greatness in physical science. I believe it needn't have turned out that way. People could perfectly well have fixed on someone much less distinguished, whereas Einstein really was a great genius in theoretical physics and fully deserved the adulation he received from the public as a scientist.


Back when I was in graduate school at MIT I had one of several desks in a room next to Viki's office, and my office-mates were changing all the time. They were not all graduate students — many of them already had Ph.D.'s, including "Murph" Goldberger, who had studied with Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago. He and I became very friendly and talked a great deal about physics and other subjects. He left to go back to Chicago as an assistant professor, and he got me a job as an instructor there after I had been at the Institute for Advanced Study for a while. Frank Yang, who was at the Institute, had had that same job, and I asked him, "How many instructors are there? Do they have to compete with one another for promotion?" He said I would be the only one. Then I asked if there was a good chance for promotion to assistant professor and he told me there was an excellent chance. So even though as an instructorship the job didn't sound like much, it was actually very good indeed, with an extremely light teaching load that allowed me to do research in theoretical elementary particle physics — some of it with Murph — most of the time. I had to teach only one course per quarter. It was at the University of Chicago that I thought up the idea of the quantity called "strangeness" as an explanation for the "strange particles."

I was promoted very soon to assistant professor and not long thereafter to associate professor with tenure. I was something like 24 at the time. It's a little hard to specify how long I stayed at Chicago because I was on leave a good deal, for example in the fall of '54 at Columbia University, where I was asked to join the faculty. In the spring of '55 I was back at the Institute for Advanced Study, partly because my fiance was working there.

Margaret was an English girl who read classics at Newnham College, Cambridge. Before graduation she went to the employment office at Cambridge and was told, "We have too many arts graduates like you, so we're sending you to the United States." They got her a fellowship at Bryn Mawr, where she spent a year studying archaeology and working in the basement of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, which is a wonderful place for archaeology. She had spent her summer holidays with her friend Lisa Wace and her father, the famous archeologist Alan Wace, digging at Mycenae. In fact Margaret was the one who found the Linear B tablets there. Each student archeologist had a workman named George, and her George dug up the tablets.

Wace had had his career blighted by his correct view that the Greeks had conquered Minoan Crete, and that Mycenaean civilization had been not just a subsidiary one but one with its own important — and Greek — culture. The discovery of the tablets in various places on the Greek mainland, together with Michael Ventris's demonstration that they were written in an early dialect of Greek, helped to confirm Wace's ideas, but that was only after he had been banned from excavation there for many years through the influence of Sir Arthur Evans, who insisted that the Cretans had dominated the mainland as well as Crete.

After a year at Bryn Mawr, Margaret had become assistant to an elderly lady archaeologist at the Institute for Advanced Study, where I met her and fell in love at once. The next spring we were married on her birthday, April 19, 1955, and immediately drove out to Caltech. I thought Caltech would be a better place than Chicago to live and to work, and Enrico Fermi, who was an important attraction at Chicago, had died. I had to take the job at Caltech right away, although I had been hoping to spend a year in Denmark at the Bohr Institute. Margaret and I did go to Copenhagen for a few weeks in the summer, but we weren't able to stay. My draft board was very anxious to give me a deferment but I had to be either a student or a teacher. The members of the board didn't understand postdoctoral research fellowships.

Another reason for going to Caltech was the prospect of collaboration with Dick Feynman. He, in fact, had arranged for me to be invited to Caltech. He was quite impressed with some of the work I had done. One research project concerned what is now called the renormalization group. Francis Low and I completed that work during the hot summer of 1953 at the University of Illinois. Dick said that this was the only piece of research on quantum electrodynamics that came as a surprise to him. He got quite excited about it and actually extended the results a bit. Interestingly, the renormalization group approach revealed errors in a number of calculations that people had made previously. Years later, my student Ken Wilson applied renormalization group ideas to condensed matter physics, in brilliant research that won him an unshared Nobel Prize .Another discovery that impressed Dick concerned the neutral kaon situation, in which there are two states. One linear combination of those states is involved in the production of the neutral kaon particles, and another linear combination is involved in their disintegration. It's a beautiful example of quantum mechanics at work.

Caltech made me a full professor in 1956. I called my father in New York to tell him the news, but he said, "They don't make full professors at your age," and hung up. I suppose he was proud of me, but he wouldn't admit it at that time, only much later.


By the time I got to Caltech Feynman was very well established. He was eleven and a half years older than I. We worked together for several years, and it was very pleasant and exciting. We would bounce ideas off each other, and call each other at odd times of day and night. We would try things and become enthusiastic about them and then find they didn't work, and sometimes we would find other things that did work; it was quite fun. After a while, however, his preoccupation with himself and his own image began to get on my nerves. He was a very good scientist, but he spent a great deal of effort generating anecdotes about himself. In addition, whenever we did anything together he would somehow think of it as his work. It's not that he didn't appreciate me — he actually admired me a great deal — but somehow he couldn't keep his own ego out of a common effort. Finally I just couldn't collaborate with him any more. We had worked closely together for five or six years and were good friends, but eventually I got turned off.

The effort that Dick spent generating stories about himself was unbelievable. He insisted on being different, always. His father had taught him that. However, in many cases it doesn't pay to be different. Doing the regular thing is often okay. For instance, he advocated on national television that people not brush their teeth or floss. We shared the same firm of dentists, and I knew that they were having terrible trouble with his teeth. They tried to persuade him to brush, or floss, or both, and he wouldn't do it. They kept bringing in scientific papers showing that it was useful; but he kept insisting it was just a superstition.

Dick and I had different talents. His great talent was for finding marvelously clever mathematical tricks for expressing theories in physics and then solving problems using those tricks, which always involved a great deal of physical insight. He was less good at finding new physical theories and getting them right, whereas I seem to have had a talent for finding out what was going on and guessing the right theory.


One project I worked on at Caltech involved trying to understand the approximate symmetries of the elementary particle system — particularly the hadrons or strongly interacting particles (including the neutron and proton and their brothers and sisters and the pi mesons and their brothers and sisters). I tried various higher symmetry schemes and then finally hit upon what I called the eightfold way, with the group SU(3) as an approximate symmetry. That worked very nicely. At the time I was interested in India and in the various religious traditions of India — not that I would embrace any religion — my interest was merely academic. I thought it would be a good joke to call the scheme the eightfold way, since the particles tended in many cases to come in sets of eight. Some silly people wrote books trying to connect my work on particle physics with oriental mysticism, whereas the connection was only a joke.

The crowning triumph of the eightfold way was the discovery in 1964 of the omega-minus particle that I had predicted in 1962 at a meeting in Geneva. On the day of the experimental discovery, my first paper on quarks was published, which laid the foundation for understanding the eightfold way and much else.

Previous Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 Beginning