Birthday: July 15, 1922
Died At Age: 96
Sun Sign: Cancer
Also Known As: Leon Max Lederman, Leon Lederman
Born Country: United States
Born in: New York, New York, United States
Famous as: Physicist
Spouse/Ex-: Ellen Carr, Florence Gordon
father: Morris Lederman
mother: Minna (née Rosenberg)
Died on: October 3, 2018
place of death: Rexburg, Idaho, United States
City: New York City
U.S. State: New Yorkers
Founder/Co-Founder: Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
education: 1951 - Columbia University, City College of New York, James Monroe High School
awards: 1988 - Nobel Prize in Physics
1982 - Wolf Prize in Physics
1992 - Enrico Fermi Award
1976 - Elliott Cresson Medal
1958 - Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences
US & Canada
1966 - National Medal of Science for Physical Science
Who was Leon M. Lederman?
Leon Lederman is a highly-decorated American experimental physicist whose research has helped understand the particles of nature and its basic forces. He began his education as a chemistry scholar but fell under the charms of physics and later became its strongest advocates. As a physicist, he is one of the main proponents of “Physics First”, a movement that aims to put physics ahead of other subjects of science, mainly chemistry and biology, in high school curriculum. He has chaired many boards namely the ‘American Physical Society’, ‘Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’, ‘JASON defense advisory group’, and ‘Society for Science & the Public’. His discovery of the “muon neutrino” and its subsequent research fetched him the Nobel Prize in Physics. He is also a noted author with his most famous book being ‘The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?’ He is a staunch atheist. In his 90s now, he has been diagnosed with dementia and is being cared for by his wife Ellen. He currently works at the Illinois Institute of Technology as the Pritzker Professor of Science.
Childhood & Early Life
Leon Max Lederman was born on July 15, 1922, in New York City. His parents, Minna Rosenberg and Morris Lederman, were Russian-Jewish immigrants. His father was a laundryman.
The young Lederman was educated at James Monroe High School in the South Bronx. He graduated from City College of New York in 1943 with a BS in Chemistry.
He completed his Master’s in 1948 with his Ph.D. in 1951 from Columbia University. His subject of choice, this time, was Physics. For his Ph.D., he worked on Columbia's “NEVIS synchro-cyclotron”, a powerful particle accelerator.
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Before he began his Master’s, Leon Lederman served in the U.S. army for three years and participated in World War II. He became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Signal Corps.
After receiving his doctorate, he stayed on at Columbia University eventually becoming ‘Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics’ in 1958. He continued in this role for 28 years, albeit, taking time off for his research.
He became a Ford Foundation fellow at Geneva’s CERN where he was part of the group that conducted the “g-2” experiment. Many CERN scientists including Georges Charpak, F.J.M Farley, and E. Picasso were part of the experiment which went on for about 19 years.
From 1961 to 1978, he served as the Director of the Nevis Labs at Columbia. He mentored over 50 Ph.D. scholars many of whom became professors and physicists. None of these students, he jokingly mentions, is in jail.
He has been a guest scientist at many labs with a majority of his work being conducted at Nevis, Brookhaven, CERN, and Fermilab.
He discovered the “muon neutrino” in 1962 that led to his Nobel Prize winning research on neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons.
Lederman was the head of a group of scientists who announced the discovery of a particle produced by the Fermilab particle accelerator in 1977. The particle was found to be non-existent and was named ‘Oops-Leon’. The same year he discovered the ‘bottom quark’.
In 1979, he became Director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. His main responsibility was to supervise the construction and utilization of the first superconducting synchrotron.
He resigned from his position at Columbia University and retired from Fermilab in 1989. He went on to teach at the University of Chicago.
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From 1989 to 1992, he served on the board of trustees for the Society for Science & the Public. In 1991, Lederman became President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
He was a strong supporter of the Superconducting Super Collider project which was proposed in 1983. Due to its mounting expenditure, which was about US$2 billion, the project was shelved in 1993. His book, ‘The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?’ shed light on the importance of such projects.
He now works at the in the Physics department of the Illinois Institute of Technology as the Pritzker Professor of Science.
As a particle physicist, he was instrumental in the discovery of the ‘muon neutrino’” and the ‘bottom quark’ in 1962 and 1977 respectively. These discoveries cemented his reputation as a top-notch physicist.
The discovery of the muon neutrino led to his study on neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons. This would become his Nobel Prize winning research.
As an author, he penned his most famous book, ‘The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?’ in 1993. It still stands one among the best books on science.
Awards & Achievements
Leon M. Lederman was awarded 1988 Nobel Prize in 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".
For his research on quarks and leptons, he was co-awardee of the Wolf Prize in Physics with Martin Lewis Perl, in 1982.
He received the National Medal of Science in 1965 and more recently, the Vannevar Bush Award in 2012.
Personal Life & Legacy
Lederman is married twice. His first wife was Florence Gordon with whom he has three children, two daughters, and a son. His daughter Rena is an anthropologist, daughter Rachel is a lawyer, and his son Jesse is an investment banker.
After parting ways with Florence, he married Ellen Carr. The couple resides at the Fermilab Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.
Recently, he has been suffering from dementia. To cover his treatment costs, he put up his Nobel Prize for auction which was then sold for US$765,000.
The amount received for his Nobel Prize action is the fourth-highest ever paid. It was one among 10 Nobel Prizes to be auctioned and only the second to be sold by a living recipient.