Tag Archives: Austrian Jews

Jews of the Week: Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig

Discovering the Quark

Murray Gell-Mann

Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was born in Manhattan to Austrian-Jewish immigrants from what is now Ukraine. Passionate about math and science from childhood, he graduated high school at the top of his class years ahead, and began studying at Yale when he was 14 on a full scholarship. He had his PhD from MIT by 22. He did research at multiple universities before moving to Caltech in 1955, where he became the youngest professor in the school’s history, and taught there until retirement. In 1958, together with Richard Feynman, he made a huge discovery with regards to the weak nuclear force (one of the four fundamental forces of nature). He went on to make many more important discoveries in the field of quantum physics. He is most famous for proposing the quark model – revolutionizing the world of sub-atomic particles – and for coining the term “quark”. Gell-Mann won a Nobel Prize in 1969 for his work. He is also credited with defending and popularizing string theory. In the 1960s, Gell-Mann was a co-founder of the Jason Division which advised the US military and helped to develop anti-ballistic missiles. He was a science adviser for presidents Nixon and Clinton, and was an editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Later in life, he delved into “complexity science”, tackling some of the most challenging problems in nature (especially biology). He even co-founded the Santa Fe Institute for researching this kind of complex science. Gell-Mann wrote a best-selling science book called The Quark and the Jaguar, and inspired the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect (see below). Sadly, Gell-Mann passed away last month.

George Zweig

Gell-Mann was not alone in his proposal of the quark model. The same model was devised independently by George Zweig (b. 1937), who was born in Moscow to German-Jewish parents fleeing Nazi Germany. The family moved to the US in 1938 and settled in Detroit. Zweig earned a bachelor’s in math in 1959, and a PhD from Caltech in 1964 (a graduate student of Richard Feynman). He then went to work at the world-famous CERN, where he developed the quark model. (He called quarks “aces”, but Gell-Mann’s name stuck.) Zweig continued to do important work in quantum physics for some time before switching to neurobiology. He helped uncover how the cochlea in the ear transduces sounds into nerve impulses, and how the brain maps sounds, and made other key discoveries with regards to the amazing complexity of the ear. He also invented a device called a signiscope. Zweig was a professor at Caltech for over three decades. Nominated for a Nobel Prize, he has yet to win one, though he has won multiple other prestigious science prizes.

Israeli Scientists Invent Glue to Replace Stitches

Keanu Reeves is Shomer Negiah

Suicide in Jewish Law

38 Years Later: How Iran Helped Israel Destroy Iraq’s Nuclear Reactor

Health Experts Debunk the Effects of 5 “Superfoods”

Does Time Exist?

A Jewish Take on the Classic Moral Problem of the Trolley

Words of the Week

The Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows: You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well… You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues… you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read.
– Michael Crichton

Jew of the Week: Jack Kirby

The King of Comics

Jack Kirby (Credit: Susan Skaar)

Jacob Kurtzberg (1917-1994) was born in Manhattan to poor Jewish immigrants from Austria. He loved to draw as a child, and taught himself art techniques by studying comic strips and political cartoons in newspapers. He was rejected by the Alliance Art School (a branch of the Educational Alliance in Manhattan that was created by wealthy Jews to assist and integrate poor Eastern European Jewish immigrants), and quit Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute after a week. At 19, he started working on newspaper comic strips, first under the pseudonym Jack Curtiss. For a time he worked on Popeye cartoons, then switched to comic books. He worked on many productions over the next few years, and published under a variety of pen names, finally settling on Jack Kirby. Soon, Kirby teamed up with Joe Simon, and the two were hired by Timely Comics, later renamed Marvel Comics. Simon and Kirby’s first creation was Captain America. The comic was a huge success, but Marvel didn’t pay a good wage so they moved over to DC Comics. There, they produced a number of hits, selling over a million copies each month. During World War II, Kirby was drafted to the army and fought in Normandy. In the winter, he had severe frostbite and military doctors nearly amputated both of his legs. He was able to recover, and was awarded a number of medals, including the Bronze Star. Returning to America after the war, Kirby reunited with Simon and the two worked on a number of projects, including a stretch making popular romance comics that sold several million copies a month. At one point, they ran their own comics company. Eventually, the partnership soured and the two parted ways. Kirby eventually returned to Marvel. Partnering with Stan Lee, the two went on to revolutionize comics and usher in its “Silver Age”. Their first creation was the Fantastic Four, followed by more famous figures like the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Galactus, Silver Surfer, Black Panther, and the X-Men. In 1963, they combined some of these heroes to create The Avengers. Many of these characters have since been adapted to the big screen, making the Marvel Cinematic Universe the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. (The latest – and for now, final – installment of The Avengers, Endgame, opens this week and is expected to break nearly all movie records.) Kirby has been credited with being “the single most influential figure in the turnaround in Marvel’s fortunes from the time he rejoined the company.” He helped make comic book characters and their stories deeper and richer, more vibrant and alive, and more meaningful for readers young and old. Kirby also pioneered a number of new art techniques, including his famous “Kirby Krackle” energy fields. In 1970, he moved back to work for DC Comics, then came back to Marvel in 1976. During this time, he created The Eternals (rumoured to be the next big Marvel film series). Through the 1980s and until his last days, Kirby continued to create characters and draw comics. He was involved in a number of cartoons and film animations, too. Kirby felt like he never got the credit he deserved, and spent a great deal of time fighting for the rights to his own work. At the end, he only got about 2000 pages of the 13,000 pages he drew for Marvel alone. Nonetheless, the impact he had on the comic books industry, and on the world of art and film in general is immeasurable. Many artists, writers, and filmmakers point to him as their main inspiration. Kirby has been called “the King of Comics” and “one of the chief architects of the American imagination.”

How the “Splitting of the Sea” Can Change Your Life

Words of the Week

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
– Gandhi

The first issue of The Avengers (September 1963); cover of Fantastic Four #72 (March 1968), showing characteristic “Kirby Krackles” in the background; a page from Fantastic Four #61 (June 1966) illustrated by Jack Kirby.