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Nobel Prize Winner Appointed Presidential Professor at USC

Murray-Gell Mann USC Presidential Professor
Murray Gell-Mann

Murray Gell-Mann, a renowned physicist and Nobel laureate, has been appointed Presidential Professor of Physics and Medicine.

“I’m delighted to welcome Murray Gell-Mann to our academic community,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “His discoveries have transformed our concept of the cosmos we inhabit. He represents the very manner of scholar that USC seeks — one who can creatively connect separate fields of inquiry in order to magnify our capacity to see new intellectual pathways.”

The title Presidential Professor is a rare USC honor bestowed upon an individual who combines the highest academic recognition with landmark contributions to society. A pioneer of quantum physics, Gell-Mann received the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles.

In his new role, Gell-Mann will collaborate with cancer researcher and oncologist David Agus, professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the USC Center for Applied Molecular Medicine.

Elizabeth Garrett, interim senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, sees USC as an ideal incubator for their collaborative work.

“We’re honored to have Murray Gell-Mann join the faculty,” she said. “He’s helped us understand our universe at the subatomic level, and he’ll now work with David Agus to investigate an equally challenging frontier — the complexity of human disease. Their partnership demonstrates USC’s firm commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration that provides important new insights and drives society forward.”

Agus, one of the world’s leading oncologists, said: “Professor Gell-Mann is a scholar of incredible breadth and depth. I’m excited to continue and expand our work together, which I hope will lead to new ways to understand and treat cancer and other diseases.”

Gell-Mann gained acclaim for successfully theorizing that the neutrons and protons that make up atomic nuclei are composed of fundamental building blocks that he named “quarks,” the spelling of which he borrowed from the James Joyce novel Finnegans Wake. Quarks are permanently trapped inside objects like the neutron and proton and have other unusual properties as well.

Gell-Mann is a Distinguished Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute, which he cofounded and where he currently heads the Evolution of Human Languages program.

He is now the second Nobel Prize winner among the USC faculty. The first is George Olah, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Olah, who was recognized in 1994 for his pioneering research in superacids and hydrocarbon chemistry, holds the Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Chair in Organic Chemistry.

“I’m looking forward to continuing my work with Dr. Agus and the USC community to address pressing matters of human health,” Gell-Mann said.

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