Sean Carroll has a video about gauge theory (2020) in his series about Greatest Ideas of the Universe, where he claims that early in the development of quantum chromodynamics, some physicists tried to impose a different color charge scheme: red, white and blue, instead of the usual additive color scheme red, green, blue. Taken from the transcript [minute 3]:

[...] quarks come in three colors. Of course the idea of colors, let's say: red, green and blue (There was a brief movement movement to make it red, white and blue, but that was considered a little jingoistic so red, green and blue was a little bit more physics oriented). This is an idea from Murray Gell-Mann, the famous physicist. He was one of the co-inventors of quarks and the idea is [...]

Are there sources to back this up? Why would somebody use white instead of green?

As pointed in the comments this might be related to the colors of the US flag (red, white and blue) considering the nationality of Gell-Man and Zweig.

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    $\begingroup$ BTW, these are also colors of French, Dutch, British, Cuban, Czechoslovakian... flags. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 4:07

1 Answer 1


According to the best source, "red, white, and blue" were proposed in honour of France, not the United States.

As discussed in the answer to "Quantum chromodynamics - an origin of the name", Murray Gell-Mann reportedly initially used red, white, and blue for the quark colours in honour of the French, not American, flag, because he was living in France near CERN at the time. The source cited is Harald Fritzsch in his book The Fundamental Constants: A Mystery of Physics. Fritzsch and Gell-Mann are often credited as the parents of quantum chromodynamics, and along with William Bardeen, authored the seminal colour paper "Light-Cone Algebra, $\pi^0$ Decay and $e^+ e^-$ Annihilation", where the "red, white, and blue" quark colours were used, so he is a pretty solid source.

  • $\begingroup$ I was a student when the colours were still under dispute and on the elevator with the lecturer who had just talked about quarks. Said lecturer mentioned this to another passenger who was a visiting professor. The latter asked which colours were chosen. The former replied: "Red, white, and blue." The latter responded: "Very chauvinistic, don't you think? You should used black, white, and grey." $\endgroup$
    – retired
    Mar 11 at 15:53

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