by Panos Charitos. Published: 17 September 2013

George Zweig, working separately from Murray Gell-Mann, put forth the idea of the existence of quarks in 1964 during his nine-month stay at CERN 1. He originally suggested the name “axes” (aces) for the new particles since he believed that there were four different types of quarks like there were four types of aces in the playing cards. Finally, the name “quark” suggested by Gell-Mann prevailed although his major contribution in the introduction of quarks has been widely recognized.



George Zweig started his career in physics back in 1959; when he graduated from the University of Michigan and continued his doctoral research under the supervision of Richard Feynman at Caltech.

He worked for several years at MIT and the Los Alamos National Laboratory but later he turned his interest to neurobiology and particularly in the transduction of sound into nerve impulses inside the human ear and the formation of the perception of sound.


George Zweig, inventor of the "Aces/Quarks" model in the ALICE Cavern


George Zweig visited CERN where he delivered a CERN Colloquium on 19 September about “Concrete Quarks: The Beginning of the End”. He referred to the events that led to the discovery and eventual acceptance of quarks as concrete physical entities.


From left to right: Despina Hatzifotiadou, George Zweig and Carnita Hervet.


The seminar included a very entertaining recollection of how the idea came about, and what were the initial reactions of several of the main characters of the theoretical physics arena in the sixties (including Feynman, who was originally very sceptical but then accepted the idea toward the end of the sixties). The acceptance of the reality of quarks was in general quite slow, and Zweig was more of a believer of the concrete existence of these constituents than was originally Murray Gell-Mann, who liked to think of quarks as mathematical entities rather than real ones.

During his stay at CERN, George visited ALICE. Despina Hatzifotiadou, ALICE Outreach Coordinator, guided George to the ALICE cavern, showing the various subdetectors of the experiment and how they are used for tracking and particle identification.

Following his visit to ALICE, George Zweig met Jurgen Schukraft and Paolo Guibellino, and discussed with them the latest physics results from ALICE studies of the QGP as well as some of the exciting new results revealed by last year's proton-lead collisions.

Finally, during his stay at CERN, George Zweig delivered a Colloquium on “Concrete Quarks: The Beginning of the End”. In his talk, George Zweig discussed the steps that led him to introduce the Quark/Aces model while he was working in CERN's Theory Division back in 1964 while he also reviewed some of the main developments of his original idea.

1. Read more: George Zweig: An SU(3) model for strong interaction symmetry and its breaking and An SU(3) model for strong interaction symmetry and its breaking - II

An interview with George Zweig, overviewing the history of the quark/aces model will appear in the next issue of ALICE MATTERS.