Leon M. Lederman

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Leon M. Lederman
Leon M. Lederman.jpg
Lederman on May 11, 2007
Born Leon Max Lederman
(1922-07-15) July 15, 1922 (age 96)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Residence United States
Nationality United States
Alma mater City College of New York
Columbia University
Known for Seminal contributions to neutrinos, bottom quark
Spouse(s) Florence Gordon (3 children)
Ellen Carr[1]
Awards Nobel 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
Fields Physics
Institutions Columbia University
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Illinois Institute of Technology

Leon Max Lederman (born July 15, 1922) is 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 for Physics in 1988, along with Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, for their research on neutrinos. He is Director Emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, USA. He founded the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, in Aurora, Illinois in 1986, and has been Resident Scholar Emeritus since 2012.[2][3] In 2012, he was awarded the Vannevar Bush Award for his extraordinary contributions to understanding the basic forces and particles of nature.[4]

Early life and career[edit]

Lederman was born in New York City, New York, the son of Minna (née Rosenberg) and Morris Lederman, a laundryman.[5] Lederman graduated from the James Monroe High School in the South Bronx. He received his bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1943, and received a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1951. He then joined the Columbia faculty and eventually became Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics. In 1960, on leave from Columbia, he spent some time at CERN in Geneva as a Ford Foundation Fellow.[6] He took an extended leave of absence from Columbia in 1979 to become director of Fermilab. Resigning from Columbia (and retiring from Fermilab) in 1989 to teach briefly at the University of Chicago, he then moved to the physics department of the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he served as the Pritzker Professor of Science. In 1991, Lederman became President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Lederman is also one of the main proponents of the "Physics First" movement. 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.[7]

A former president of the American Physical Society, Lederman also received the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize and the Ernest O. Lawrence Medal. Lederman served as President of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 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.[8]

Among his achievements are the discovery of the muon neutrino in 1962 and the bottom quark in 1977. These helped establish his reputation as among the top particle physicists.

In 1977, a group of physicists, the E288 experiment team, led by Leon Lederman announced that a particle with a mass of about 6.0 GeV was being produced by the Fermilab particle accelerator. The particle's initial name was the greek letter Upsilon (). 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.[9]

As the director of Fermilab and subsequent Nobel physics prizewinner, Leon Lederman was a very prominent early supporter – some sources say the architect[10] or proposer[11] – of the Superconducting Super Collider project, which was endorsed around 1983, and was a major proponent and advocate throughout its lifetime.[12][13] 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.[14] The increasingly moribund project was finally shelved that same year after some $2 billion of expenditures.[10]

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).

In 1995, he received the Chicago History Museum "Making History Award" for Distinction in Science Medicine and Technology.[15]

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. 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.[16] Lederman was also a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Advisory Board [17] and CRDF Global.

Personal life[edit]

Lederman was born in New York to a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia.[18] His father operated a hand laundry while encouraging Leon to pursue his education. He went to elementary school in New York City, continuing on to college and his doctorate in the city.[19]

In his book,The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, Lederman wrote that, although he was a chemistry major, he became fascinated with physics, because of the clarity of the logic and the unambiguous results from experimentation. His best friend during his college years, Martin Klein, convinced him of "the splendors of physics during a long evening over many beers".[20] After that conversation he became resolute and unwavering regarding his desire to pursue physics. When he joined the Army[21] with a B.S. in Chemistry, he was determined to become a physicist following his service.[22]:17

After three years in the U.S. Army during World War II, he took up physics at Columbia University, and received his Masters in 1948. Lederman began his Ph.D research working with Columbia's Nevis synchro-cyclotron,[23] which was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world at that time.[22]:17 Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the president of Columbia University, and future president of the United States, cut the ribbon dedicating the synchro-cyclotron in June 1950.[24] These atom smashers were just coming of age at this time and created the new discipline of particle physics.[22]:17

After receiving his Ph.D and then becoming a faculty member at Columbia University he was promoted to full professor in 1958.[22]:796

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." [22]:87 And this was the quest he undertook. This book shows that he pursued the quark, and hoped to find the Higgs boson. The top quark, which he and other physicists realized must exist according to the standard model, was, in fact, produced at Fermilab not long after this book was published.[25]

He is known for his sense of humor in the physics community.[22]: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.[26] He answered questions such as "What is the strong force?" and "What happened before the Big Bang?".

He has three children with his first wife, Florence Gordon, and now lives with his second wife, Ellen (Carr), in Driggs, Idaho.[19][27] In May 2015 his Nobel Prize gold medal was sold for US$765,000.[28] According to his wife Ellen, they faced the uncertainty of medical bills related to his dementia diagnosis.[28] She noted, "It's really hard. I wish it could be different. But he's happy. He likes where he lives with cats and dogs and horses. He doesn't have any problems with anxiety, and that makes me glad that he's so content."[28]

Lederman is an atheist.[29][30]



  • President Jimmy Carter's Committee on the National Medal of Science, 21 March 1979.
  • Appointment as member of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC, 15 February 1990.
  • Member, President Bill Clinton's Commission on White House Fellowships, 13 April 1999.

Honors and awards[edit]

  • Election to the National Academy of Sciences, 1965.
  • U.S. National Medal of Science, 1965.
  • Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 13 May 1970.
  • Townsend Harris Medal, Alumni Association of the City College of New York, 1973.
  • Elliott Cresson Prize of the Franklin Institute, 1976.[33]
  • Wolf Foundation Prize in Physics, Israel, 1982.
  • Department of Energy Distinguished Associate Award, May 1988.
  • Nobel Prize in Physics, December 1988.
  • Member, American Philosophical Society, 21 April 1989.
  • Citation on the occasion of the dedication of IMSA (founded 1985) to the State of Illinois in honor of Leon Lederman and Gov. James Thompson, IMSA, Aurora, Illinois, 10 June 1989.
  • Laureate of the Lincoln Academy, State of Illinois, Springfield, Illinois, 21 April 1990.
  • Public Affairs Committee Award, American Chemical Society, 22 March 1991.
  • 1991 William Proctor Prize, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, 1991.
  • Enrico Fermi Prize of the U.S. Department of Energy, 1992.
  • President's Medal, The City College, The City University of New York, New York, New York, 28 May 1993.
  • The first Enrico Fermi History Maker Award, for distinction in Science, Medicine and Technology, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois, 8 June 1995.
  • Appointment as a Tetelman Fellow at Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 7 November 1994.
  • Ordem Nacional do Merito Cientifico, Brasilia, Brazil, 13 June 1995.
  • In Praise of Reason from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP) 1996.[34]
  • 1999 Medallion, Division of Particles and Fields, Mexican Physical Society, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, 11 November 1999.
  • Vannevar Bush Prize, 2012.[35]

Honorary degrees[edit]

  • Doctor of Science, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 10 June 1983.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters and Science, IIT, Chicago, Illinois, 17 May 1987.
  • Doctor of Science, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, Illinois, 7 May 1988.
  • Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 15 May 1988.
  • Doctor of Science, City College of New York, New York, New York, 8 June 1988.
  • La laurea honoris causa in Fisica, Universita' degli Studi di Pisa, 21 March 1989.
  • Doctor of Science, honoris causae, Aurora University, Aurora, Illinois, 20 May 1989.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Columbia College, Chicago, Illinois, 3 June 1989.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Rush University, Chicago, Illinois, 10 June 1989.
  • Doctor of Science, University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, 11 June 1989.
  • Doctor en Filosofia – Fisica, Honoris Causa, Universidad de Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico, 2 August 1989.
  • Honorary Degree, Academia Nacional de Ciencias Exactas, Fisicas y Naturales, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 3 November 1989.
  • Doctor of Philosophy of Physics, honoris causa, University of Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico, 1989.
  • Doctor of Science, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois, 19 May 1990.
  • Doctor of Science, Columbia University, New York, New York, 26 September 1990.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, The City University of New York, New York City, New York, 11 May 1992.
  • Doctor of Science, Adelphi University, Long Island, New York, 17 May 1992.
  • Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Saint Xavier University, Chicago, Illinois, 23 May 1992.
  • Doctor of Science – honoris causa, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom, 10 July 1992.
  • Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Drury College, Springfield, Missouri, 14 October 1992.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, State University of New York, Geneseo, New York, 15 May 1993.
  • Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Case-Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, 23 May 1993.
  • Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Marywood College, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 15 October 1993.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Illinois Benedictine College, Lisle, Illinois, 21 May 1994.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, University of Dallas, Dallas, Texas, 15 November 1994.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, 11 June 1995.
  • Universitario de la Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad Del Cusco, Cusco, Peru, Doctor, honoris causa, 16 August 1995.
  • University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, Doctor of Science, honoris causa, 18 May 1997.
  • Doctor of Science, Bethany College, Bethany, West Virginia, 24 May 1997.
  • Doctor of Science, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, 17 May 1998.
  • Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, 17 May 1998.
  • Doctor of Science, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, December 1998.
  • Doctor, honoris causa, Institute for High Energy Physics, Protvino, Russia, 15 July 1998.
  • Diploma, Miembro Correspondiente, La Academia Mexicana de Ciencias, October 1999.
  • Honorary Professor, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China, 5 November 2000.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois, 21 January 2001.
  • Doctor of Science, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida, May 2004.
  • Doctor of Public Service, The George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 16 May 2004.
  • Doctor of Science Education, honoris causa, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 12 December 2004.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois, 6 May 2006.
  • Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, 24 October 2008.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charles W. Carey (14 May 2014). American Scientists. Infobase Publishing. p. 223. ISBN 978-1-4381-0807-0. 
  2. ^ a b 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. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. 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. ^ "Vannevar Bush Award Recipients". National Science Foundation. 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ 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 (1955–1965). 17 (3): 288–303. Bibcode:1960NCim...17..288C. doi:10.1007/BF02860257. 
  7. ^ Popkin, Gabriel (July 2009). ""Physics First" Battles for Acceptance". APS news. APS – American Physical Society. 18 (7). Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  8. ^ Horgan, John (April 16, 2006). "Rent-a-Genius". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ a b 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 
  11. ^ Lillian Hoddeson; Adrienne Kolb (2011). "Vision to reality: From Robert R. Wilson's frontier to Leon M. Lederman's Fermilab". Physics in Perspective (PIP). 5: 67–86. arXiv:1110.0486Freely accessible. Bibcode:2003PhP.....5...67H. doi:10.1007/s000160300003. Lederman also planned what he saw as Fermilab's next machine, the Superconducting SuperCollider (SSC) 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ 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 [] 
  14. ^ 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 
  15. ^ "Making History Awards, 1995–2015 Honorees" (PDF). Chicago History Museum. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 June 2016. Retrieved 4 October 2016. 
  16. ^ "Lunch with a Laureate". USA Science & Engineering Festival. Archived from the original on 30 December 2010. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  17. ^ "USA Science & Engineering Festival–Advisors". USA Science & Engineering Festival. 2016. Archived from the original on 2 October 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  18. ^ Humes, Edward (2006), Over Here: How the G.I. Bill Transformed the American Dream, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, p. 275, ISBN 9780151007103 .
  19. ^ a b Lederman, Leon (1991). "Leon M. Lederman – Biographical". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ "Leon Lederman Biography – Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. 11 June 2011. Archived from the original on 2 October 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f Lederman, Leon; Teresi, Dick (1993). The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780618711680. 
  23. ^ "A Short History of Columbia Physics". Department of Physics. Columbia University in the City of New York. 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 
  24. ^ Devons, Samuel. "Living Legacies". Columbia University. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  25. ^ 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/9503002Freely accessible. Bibcode:1995PhRvL..74.2626A. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.74.2626. PMID 10057978. 
  26. ^ Carroll, Sean (26 August 2008). "Street Corner Science with Leon Lederman". Discover (magazine). 
  27. ^ "Leon Lederman in Driggs, ID". 411. 2 October 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  28. ^ a b c Boyle, Alan (29 May 2015). "Physicist Leon Lederman's Nobel Prize Sells for $765,000". NBC News. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  29. ^ 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 
  30. ^ 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! 
  31. ^ "Large Hadron Collider May Explain Atom's Mysteries". Newsweek. 2008-09-05. Archived from the original on 16 March 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2016. 
  32. ^ Lederman, Leon M.; Hill, Christopher T. (October 2013). "Beyond the God Particle pdf". Google docs. Prometheus Books. ISBN 9781616148010. Retrieved 2016-10-04. 
  33. ^ "Franklin Laureate database". The Franklin Institute Awards. 2012. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 
  34. ^ Flynn, Tom. "World Skeptics Congress Draws Over 1200 Participants". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 19 August 2016. 
  35. ^ "Fermilab History and Archives–Leon M. Lederman Honorary Degrees and Awards". history.fnal.gov. Fermilab. 2012. Retrieved October 12, 2016. 

External links[edit]