t is no accident that the quark—the building block of protons and neutrons and, by extension, of you and everything around you—has such a strange and charming name. The physicist who discovered it, Murray Gell-Mann, loves words as much as he loves physics. He is known to correct a stranger’s pronunciation of his or her own last name (which doesn’t always go over well) and is more than happy to give names to objects or ideas that do not have one yet. Thus came the word quark for his most famous discovery. It sounds like “kwork” and got its spelling from a whimsical poem in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. This highly scientific term is clever and jokey and gruff all at once, much like the man who coined it.
Read on for an interesting interview with Murray Gell-Mann, winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics.