Why Obama's New Defense Nominee Ashton Carter Likes 'Charmed Quarks'

New Defense secretary nominiee Ashton Carter is a physicist, medieval historian.

— -- The man President Obama has tapped to be his next Secretary of Defense is an expert in “charmed quarks."

Ashton Carter is a physicist and medieval historian by training, educated at Yale and Oxford and teaching classes at Harvard, according to his official biography. In 1975, he published an article in Yale Scientific titled “Quarks, Charm and the Psi Particle.”

“I liked dusty archives, learning to decipher manuscripts in medieval script, and learning all the languages necessary to read the primary and secondary historical literature, especially Latin,” Carter, a Yale double-major, wrote in a 2007 autobiographical essay posted on his Harvard faculty page. “Physics was entirely different: clean and modern, logical and mathematical.”

It’s that tendency toward the orderly and efficient that made Carter, 60, a valued Defense Department adviser during stints in the Clinton and Obama administrations, according to public accounts by former colleagues. He lent expertise to strategic nuclear weapons policy and, more recently, to management of military technology and logistics.

“All decision making is amongst a handful of people in the White House who only have one thing in common, that they don’t know anything about the military," McCain said.

Carter himself has openly reflected about the challenges of working within the executive branch bureaucracy. In his 2007 faculty autobiographical essay, he wrote that serving at the Pentagon can be onerous because of the “many bosses.”

“Public service at senior levels in Washington is a little bit like being a Christian in the Coliseum. You never know when they are going to release the lions and have you torn apart for the amusement of onlookers,” Carter wrote. “And then, of course, if your job is world affairs, reality intrudes even in Washington. Crises and emergencies and conflicts erupt around the world on their schedule, not yours.”

ABC’s Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.