Leon Max Lederman was born on July
15, 1922, in New York to Russian Jewish immigrant parents.
Lederman grew up in the Bronx, received his bachelor's degree from the City College
of New York in 1943, and received a Ph.D. from Columbia
University in 1951. Lederman joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps between college and graduate school, where he achieved the rank of Second Lieutenant. After obtaining his doctorate, Lederman
remained at Columbia conducting research and teaching
for the next 28 years. In 1958, he was promoted to Professor.
He became Director of the Nevis Labs in 1961 and held
this position until 1978. In 1979, he became Director
of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
He was awarded the Nobel
Prize in Physics in 1988, along with Melvin
Schwartz and Jack
Steinberger, for their work on neutrinos. In addition
to receiving the Nobel Prize, Lederman was awarded the
National Medal of Science (1965) and the Wolf Prize
for Physics (1982).
He is Director Emeritus of Fermi National
Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois.
He founded the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy,
in Aurora, Illinois, in 1986. His current occupation
is a resident scholar in the Illinois Mathematics and
The following press release from the
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences describes Lederman's
The work now rewarded was carried out
in the 1960s. It led to discoveries that opened entirely
new opportunities for research into the innermost structure
and dynamics of matter. Two great obstacles to further
progress in research into weak forces - one of nature's
four basic forces - were removed by the prizewinning
work. One of the obstacles was that there was previously
no method for the experimental study of weak forces
at high energies. The other was theoretically more fundamental,
and was overcome by the three researchers' discovery
that there are at least two kinds of neutrino. One belongs
with the electron, the other with the muon. The muon
is a relatively heavy, charged elementary particle which
was discovered in cosmic radiation during the 1930s.
The view, now accepted, of the paired grouping of elementary
particles has its roots in the prizewinner's discovery.
Neutrinos are almost ghostlike constituents
of matter. They can pass unaffected through any wall,
in fact all matter is transparent to them. During the
conversion of atomic nuclei at the centre of the sun,
enormous quantities of neutrinos (which belong to the
electron family) are produced. They pass through the
whole sun virtually unhindered and stream continually
from its surface in all directions. Every human being
is penetrated by sun neutrinos at a rate of several
billion per square centimetre per second, day and night,
without leaving any noticeable trace. Neutrinos are
inoffensive. They have no electrical charge and they
travel at the speed of light, or nearly. Whether they
are weightless or have a finite but small mass is one
of today's unsolved problems.
The contribution now awarded consisted
among other things of transforming the ghostly neutrino
into an active tool of research. As well as in cosmic
radiation, neutrinos, which belong to the moon family,
can be produced in a multistep process in particle accelerators,
and this is what the prizewinners utilized. Suitable
accelerators exist in some few laboratories throughout
the world. Since all matter is transparent to neutrinos,
it is difficult to measure their action. Neutrinos are,
however, not wholly inactive. In very rare cases a neutrino
can score a random direct hit or, more correctly, a
near-miss, on a quark, a pointlike particle within a
nucleon (proton or neutron) in the nucleus of an atom
or on a similarly infinitesimal electron in the outer
shell of an atom. The rarity of such direct hits implies
that a single neutrino of moderate energy would be able
to pass unhindered through a wall of lead of a thickness
measured in light-years. In neutrino experiments the
rarity of the reactions is compensated for by the intensity
of the neutrino beam. Even in the first experiment,
the number of neutrinos was counted in hundreds of billions.
The probability of a hit also increases with the energy
of the neutrinos. The method of the prizewinners makes
it possible to achieve very high energies, limited only
by the performance of the proton accelerator. Neutrino
beams can reveal the hard inner parts of a proton in
a way not dissimilar to that in which X-rays reveal
a person's skeleton.
When the neutrino beam method was invented
by the Columbia team at the beginning of the 1960s the
quark concept was still unknown, and the method has
only later become important in quark research. Also
of later date is the experimental discovery of an entirely
new way for a neutrino to interact with an electron
or a quark in which it retains its own identity after
impact. The classical way of reacting implied that the
neutrino was converted into an electrically charged
lepton (electron or muon), and this was the reaction
utilised by the prizewinners.
The discovery of the Higgs Boson, or “god particle” in 2012 changed the world of physics and confirmed the accuracy of the “standard model” of atom composition. Lederman coined the term “god particle” in reference to the Higgs Boson in a 1993 book titled “The God Particle,” 19 years before the particle was discovered. Lederman wished to name the Higgs Boson the “goddamn particle” due to the particle's “villainous nature and the expense it is causing,” but the book's publisher would not allow it.
Suffering from dementia and mounting medical expenses, in 2015 at 93 years of age, Lederman accepted an offer from an online auction company to sell his Nobel Prize. At auction, the medal was purchased for $765,000.