Leon M. Lederman
National Medal of Science
For systematic studies of mesons, for his participation in the discovery of two kinds of neutrinos and of parity violation in the decay of mu-mesons.
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BirthJuly 15, 1922
Country of BirthUSA
Key ContributionsQuarks And Leptons
Awarded byLyndon Baines Johnson
EducationCity College of New York
Areas of ImpactTheory & Foundations
Other PrizesNobel Prize
Enrico Fermi Award
Philip Hauge Abelson Prize
They call him the “Mel Brooks of physics.” While his research with quarks and leptons is hardly comedic, Leon Lederman never takes himself too seriously.
“It's human to want to make people laugh,” he told the New York Times in 1998. “It's part of teaching. Teaching is show business.”
This duty to educate the next generation plays a unique role in his career. A proponent of the “Physics First” movement, Lederman pushes for reform in high school science curriculum. Physics, he says, should be taught before biology and chemistry, fostering an early understanding of atomic structure.
These foundations, after all, are the basis of Lederman’s research.
In 1962, he discovered the muon neutrino, a subatomic particle.
“The best discoveries always seem to be made in the small hours of the morning, when most people are asleep … “ he said. “It's real. You've found something. There's just no feeling like it in the world."