Leon Lederman, the K-meson, the Muon
Neutrino, and the Bottom Quark

His Honors · His Involvement in Science Education
His Wisdom and Humor · Resources with Additional Information

Leon Lederman started his career in Physics at Columbia University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1952.  He ‘stayed on at Columbia following his studies, remaining for nearly 30 years, as the Eugene Higgins Professor and, from 1961 until 1979, as director of Nevis Laboratories in Irvington, the Columbia physics department center for experimental research in high‑energy physics. ...

Leon Lederman
Courtesy of Fermilab

In 1956, working with a Columbia team at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, Lederman discovered a new particle, the long‑lived neutral K‑meson, which had been predicted from theory.  Further research at Columbia demonstrated the non‑conservation of parity during muon decay. ...

In 1962, Dr. Lederman, with his colleagues Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, succeeded in identifying ... the muon neutrino, [which] eventually netted Lederman and his partners a Nobel Prize in Physics. ...

This early award‑winning research in high‑energy physics brought Dr. Lederman into national science policy circles and in 1963 he proposed the idea that eventually became the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.

The design of ever more powerful accelerators, first at Brookhaven National Laboratory, enabled Lederman and his team to find the first anti‑matter particle in 1965. In 1977 Lederman led the team at Fermilab that discovered the subatomic particle known as the bottom quark. The following year he was named Director of the laboratory. By 1983, his administration had brought Fermilab into a position of international prominence with the construction of the world's most powerful superconducting accelerator, the Tevatron.

A convinced proponent of science education, Lederman opened Fermilab to countries not previously associated with high energy physics. During his term as Director, Lederman also emphasized the importance of math and science education as outreach to the neighboring communities. He initiated the Saturday Morning Physics lectures and subsequently founded the Friends of Fermilab.

The 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Lederman and his old partners, Schwartz and Steinberger for "transforming the ghostly neutrino into an active tool of research." In 1989, Dr. Lederman stepped down as Director of Fermilab and assumed the title director emeritus. He then served as Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago, and pursued his increasing interest in the problems of science education in American schools. He founded the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, the first state‑wide residence public school for gifted children, and the Teacher's Academy of Mathematics and Science in Chicago. ...

In 1994, researchers at Fermilab achieved an old goal of Dr. Lederman's, detecting the top quark, the bottom quark's elusive companion, which had escaped observation for the previous 17 years.’

- Edited excerpts from Biography: Leon Lederman, Ph.D.


Resources with Additional Information

Additional information about Leon M. Lederman, his research, and his interests is available in full text and on the Web.


Observation of High‑Energy Neutrino Reactions and the Existence of Two Kinds of Neutrinos; Physical Review Letters, Vol. 9, Issue 1: 36‑44; July 1, 1962

Neutrino Physics, DOE Technical Report, January 1963

Remarks Concerning the Recent High‑Energy Neutrino Experiment; Physical Review Letters, Vol. 10, Issue 6: 260‑262; March 15, 1963

Observations in Particle Physics from Two Neutrinos to the Standard Model; History and Archives Project, Fermilab

A Diffusion Cloud Chamber Study of Very Slow Mesons. II. Beta Decay of the Muon, DOE Technical Report, March 1995

The Discovery of the b Quark at Fermilab in 1977:  The Experiment Coordinator's Story, DOE Technical Report, December 1997


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