Leon M. Lederman

Leon Max Lederman (July 15, 1922 – October 3, 2018) was an American experimental physicist who received the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1982, along with Martin Lewis Perl, for their research on quarks and leptons, and the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1988, along with Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, for their research on neutrinos. Lederman was Director Emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois. He founded the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, in Aurora, Illinois in 1986, and was Resident Scholar Emeritus there from 2012 until his death in 2018.[2][3]

Leon M. Lederman
Lederman in 1988
Leon Max Lederman

(1922-07-15)July 15, 1922
DiedOctober 3, 2018(2018-10-03) (aged 96)
NationalityUnited States
EducationCity College of New York (B.A.)
Columbia University (Ph.D.)
Known forSeminal contributions to neutrinos, bottom quark
Spouse(s)Florence Gordon (divorced)
Ellen Carr (until his death)[1]
AwardsNobel Prize in Physics (1988)
Wolf Prize in Physics (1982)
National Medal of Science (1965)
Vannevar Bush Award (2012)
William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement (1991)
Scientific career
InstitutionsColumbia University
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Illinois Institute of Technology

An accomplished scientific writer, he became known for his 1993 book The God Particle establishing the importance of the Higgs boson.

Early life

Lederman was born in New York City, New York, to Morris and Minna (Rosenberg) Lederman.[4] His parents were Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants from Kiev and Odessa.[5] Lederman graduated from James Monroe High School in the South Bronx,[6] and received his bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1943.[7]

He next enlisted in the United States Army[7] during World War II, intending to become a physicist after his service.[8]:17 Following his discharge in 1946, he enrolled at Columbia University's graduate school, receiving his Ph.D. in 1951.[9]

Academic career

Lederman became a faculty member at Columbia University, and he was promoted to full professor in 1958 as Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics.[8]:796 In 1960, on leave from Columbia, he spent time at CERN in Geneva as a Ford Foundation Fellow.[10] He took an extended leave of absence from Columbia in 1979 to become director of Fermilab.[11] Resigning from Columbia (and retiring from Fermilab) in 1989, he then taught briefly at the University of Chicago.[12] He then moved to the physics department of the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he served as the Pritzker Professor of Science.[12] In 1992, Lederman served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[13][14]

Lederman served as President of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and at the time of his death was Chair Emeritus.[15] He also served on the board of trustees for Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public, from 1989 to 1992, and was a member of the JASON defense advisory group.[16] Lederman was also one of the main proponents of the "Physics First" movement.[17] Also known as "Right-side Up Science" and "Biology Last," this movement seeks to rearrange the current high school science curriculum so that physics precedes chemistry and biology.[17]

Lederman was an early supporter of Science Debate 2008, an initiative to get the then-candidates for president, Barack Obama and John McCain, to debate the nation's top science policy challenges.[18] In October 2010, Lederman participated in the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Lunch with a Laureate program where middle and high school students engaged in an informal conversation with a Nobel Prize-winning scientist over a brown-bag lunch.[19] Lederman was also a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Advisory Board.[20]

Academic work

In 1956, Lederman worked on parity violation in weak interactions. R. L. Garwin, Leon Lederman, and R. Weinrich modified an existing cyclotron experiment, and they immediately verified the parity violation.[21] They delayed publication of their results until after Wu's group was ready, and the two papers appeared back to back in the same physics journal. Among his achievements are the discovery of the muon neutrino in 1962 and the bottom quark in 1977.[22] These helped establish his reputation as among the top particle physicists.[22]

In 1977, a group of physicists, the E288 experiment team, led by Lederman announced that a particle with a mass of about 6.0 GeV was being produced by the Fermilab particle accelerator.[22] After taking further data, the group discovered that this particle did not actually exist, and the "discovery" was named "Oops-Leon" as a pun on the original name and Lederman's first name.[23]

As the director of Fermilab, Lederman was a prominent supporter[24][25] of the Superconducting Super Collider project, which was endorsed around 1983, and was a major proponent and advocate throughout its lifetime.[26][27] Lederman later wrote his 1993 popular science book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? – which sought to promote awareness of the significance of such a project – in the context of the project's last years and the changing political climate of the 1990s.[28] The increasingly moribund project was finally shelved that same year after some $2 billion of expenditures.[24] In The God Particle he wrote, "The history of atomism is one of reductionism – the effort to reduce all the operations of nature to a small number of laws governing a small number of primordial objects" while stressing the importance of the Higgs boson.[8]:87[29]

In 1988, Lederman received the Nobel Prize for Physics along with Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger "for the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino".[2] Lederman also received the National Medal of Science (1965), the Elliott Cresson Medal for Physics (1976), the Wolf Prize for Physics (1982) and the Enrico Fermi Award (1992).[22] In 1995, he received the Chicago History Museum "Making History Award" for Distinction in Science Medicine and Technology.[30]

Personal life

Lederman's best friend during his college years, Martin J. Klein, convinced him of "the splendors of physics during a long evening over many beers".[31] He was known for his sense of humor in the physics community.[8]:17 On August 26, 2008 Lederman was video-recorded by a science focused organization called ScienCentral, on the street in a major U.S. city, answering questions from passersby.[32] He answered questions such as "What is the strong force?" and "What happened before the Big Bang?".[32]

Despite his Jewish background, Lederman was an atheist.[33][34] He had three children with his first wife, Florence Gordon, and toward the end of his life lived with his second wife, Ellen (Carr), in Driggs, Idaho.[6][35]

Lederman began to suffer from memory loss in 2011 and, after struggling with medical bills, he had to sell his Nobel medal for $765,000 to cover the costs in 2015.[36] He died of complications from dementia on October 3, 2018, at a care facility in Rexburg, Idaho at the age of 96.[37][22]

Honors and awards


  • The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? by Leon M. Lederman, Dick Teresi (ISBN 0-385-31211-3)
  • From Quarks to the Cosmos by Leon Lederman and David N. Schramm (ISBN 0-7167-6012-6)
  • Portraits of Great American Scientists by Leon M. Lederman, et al. (ISBN 1-57392-932-8)
  • Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe by Leon M. Lederman and Christopher T. Hill (ISBN 1-59102-242-8)
  • "What We'll Find Inside the Atom" by Leon Lederman, an essay he wrote for Newsweek, 15 September 2008[43]
  • Quantum Physics for Poets by Leon M. Lederman and Christopher T. Hill (ISBN 978-1616142339)
  • Beyond the God Particle by Leon M. Lederman and Christopher T. Hill(ISBN 978-1616148010)[44]

See also


  1. Charles W. Carey (14 May 2014). American Scientists. Infobase Publishing. p. 223. ISBN 978-1-4381-0807-0.
  2. Lederman, Leon M. (1988). Frängsmyr, Tore; Ekspång, Gösta (eds.). "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1988: Leon M. Lederman, Melvin Schwartz, Jack Steinberger". Nobel Lectures, Physics 1981–1990. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  3. "Fermilab History and Archives Project–Golden Books – An Eclectic Reader on Leon M. Lederman". history.fnal.gov. Fermilab. 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  4. Lillian Hoddeson; Adrienne W. Kolb; Catherine Westfall (1 August 2009). Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier, and Megascience. University of Chicago Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-226-34625-0.
  5. "Research Profile - Leon Max Lederman". www.mediatheque.lindau-nobel.org.
  6. Lederman, Leon (1991). "Leon M. Lederman – Biographical". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  7. "Leon Lederman Biography – Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. 11 June 2011. Archived from the original on 2 October 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  8. Lederman, Leon; Teresi, Dick (1993). The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780618711680.
  9. "A Short History of Columbia Physics". Department of Physics. Columbia University in the City of New York. 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  10. Charpak, G.; Lederman, L.M.; Sens, J.C.; Zichichi, A. (1960-08-01). "A method for trapping muons in magnetic fields, and its application to a redetermination of the EDM of the muon". Il Nuovo Cimento. 17 (3): 288–303. Bibcode:1960NCim...17..288C. doi:10.1007/BF02860257.
  11. "Fermilab History and Archives - Leon M. Lederman". FNAL.gov. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  12. "Leon Lederman, Nobel-winning physicist and 'visionary' educator, 1922-2018". University of Chicago. October 3, 2018.
  13. "Leon M. Lederman". AIP.org. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  14. "AAAS Presidents".
  15. "Biography: Leon M. Lederman". The Bulletin.org. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  16. Horgan, John (April 16, 2006). "Rent-a-Genius". The New York Times.
  17. Popkin, Gabriel (July 2009). ""Physics First" Battles for Acceptance". APS News. 18 (7). Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  18. "Leon Lederman Interview" (PDF). The Science Network. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  19. "Lunch with a Laureate". USA Science & Engineering Festival. Archived from the original on 30 December 2010. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  20. "USA Science & Engineering Festival–Advisors". USA Science & Engineering Festival. 2016. Archived from the original on 2 October 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  21. Garwin, R. L.; Lederman, L. M.; Weinrich, M. (1957). "Observations of the Failure of Conservation of Parity and Charge Conjugation in Meson Decays: The Magnetic Moment of the Free Muon". Physical Review. 105 (4): 1415–1417. Bibcode:1957PhRv..105.1415G. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.105.1415.
  22. Johnson, George (2018-10-03). "Leon Lederman, 96, Explorer (and Explainer) of the Subatomic World, Dies". The New York Times.
  23. J. Yoh (1998). "The Discovery of the b Quark at Fermilab in 1977: The Experiment Coordinator's Story" (PDF). AIP Conference Proceedings. 424: 29–42.
  24. ASCHENBACH, JOY (1993-12-05). "No Resurrection in Sight for Moribund Super Collider : Science: Global financial partnerships could be the only way to salvage such a project. But some feel that Congress delivered a fatal blow". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 January 2013. Disappointed American physicists are anxiously searching for a way to salvage some science from the ill-fated superconducting super collider ... "We have to keep the momentum and optimism and start thinking about international collaboration," said Leon M. Lederman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was the architect of the super collider plan
  25. Lillian Hoddeson; Adrienne Kolb (2011). "Vision to reality: From Robert R. Wilson's frontier to Leon M. Lederman's Fermilab". Physics in Perspective. 5 (1): 67–86. arXiv:1110.0486. Bibcode:2003PhP.....5...67H. doi:10.1007/s000160300003. Lederman also planned what he saw as Fermilab's next machine, the Superconducting SuperCollider (SSC)
  26. Abbott, Charles (20 June 1987). "Super competition for superconducting super collider". Illinois Issues. p. 18. Retrieved 1 Oct 2016. Lederman, who considers himself an unofficial propagandist for the super collider, said the SSC could reverse the physics brain drain in which bright young physicists have left America to work in Europe and elsewhere.
  27. Kevles, Dan. "Good-bye to the SSC" (PDF). California Institute of Technology "Engineering & Science". 58 no. 2 (Winter 1995): 16–25. Retrieved 16 January 2013. Lederman, one of the principal spokesmen for the SSC, was an accomplished high-energy experimentalist who had made Nobel Prize-winning contributions to the development of the Standard Model during the 1960s (although the prize itself did not come until 1988). He was a fixture at congressional hearings on the collider, an unbridled advocate of its merits []
  28. Calder, Nigel (2005). Magic Universe:A Grand Tour of Modern Science. pp. 369–370. ISBN 9780191622359. The possibility that the next big machine would create the Higgs became a carrot to dangle in front of funding agencies and politicians. A prominent American physicist, Leon lederman, advertised the Higgs as The God Particle in the title of a book published in 1993 ...Lederman was involved in a campaign to persuade the US government to continue funding the Superconducting Super Collider... the ink was not dry on Lederman's book before the US Congress decided to write off the billions of dollars already spent
  29. Abe, F; Akimoto, H; Akopian, A; et al. (3 April 1995). "Observation of Top Quark Production in [anti-p] and [ p] Collisions with the Collider Detector at Fermilab". Physical Review Letters. 74 (2626): 2626–2631. arXiv:hep-ex/9503002. Bibcode:1995PhRvL..74.2626A. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.74.2626. PMID 10057978.
  30. "Making History Awards, 1995–2015 Honorees" (PDF). Chicago History Museum. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 June 2016. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  31. Hevesi, Dennis (1 April 2009). "Martin J. Klein, Historian of Physics, Dies at 84". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  32. Carroll, Sean (26 August 2008). "Street Corner Science with Leon Lederman". Discover.
  33. Dan Falk (2005). "What About God?". Universe on a T-Shirt: The Quest for the Theory of Everything. Arcade Publishing. p. 195. ISBN 9781559707336. "Physics isn't a religion. If it were, we'd have a much easier time raising money." - Leon Lederman
  34. Gogineni, Babu (July 10, 2012). "It's the Atheist Particle, actually". Rationalist Humans. Postnoon News. Retrieved 2 October 2016. Leon Lederman is himself an atheist and he regrets the term, and Peter Higgs who is an atheist too, has expressed his displeasure, but the damage has been done!
  35. "Leon Lederman in Driggs, ID". 411. 2 October 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  36. Kliff, Sarah (2018-10-04). "A Nobel Prize-winning physicist sold his medal for $765,000 to pay medical bills". Vox. Retrieved 2019-04-18.
  37. "IMSA Announces Passing of Founder, Dr. Leon Lederman". Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. 2018-10-03. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  38. "Leon M. Lederman Career, Discoveries and Awards". Fermilab.gov. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  39. "Leon M. Lederman Honorary Degrees and Awards". Fermlab.gov. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  40. "Franklin Laureate database". The Franklin Institute Awards. 2012. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  41. Flynn, Tom. "World Skeptics Congress Draws Over 1200 Participants". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  42. "Fermilab History and Archives–Leon M. Lederman Honorary Degrees and Awards". history.fnal.gov. Fermilab. 2012. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
  43. "Large Hadron Collider May Explain Atom's Mysteries". Newsweek. 2008-09-05. Archived from the original on 16 March 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  44. Lederman, Leon M.; Hill, Christopher T. (October 2013). Beyond the God Particle. Prometheus Books. ISBN 9781616148010. Retrieved 2019-02-26.
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