OCT 26, 2018 5:48 PM PDT

Neutrino, the God Particle, and the Nobel Laureate Who Sold His Medal

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

Leon Lederman (Wikimedia Common)

Early October, a 96-year old New Yorker of East European descendence passed away in a small northwest town. To those who don't know, he seems to be just a regular resident of a senior home.

Except he's not. Leon Max Lederman is a Nobel laureate. Along with physicists Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, the trio was awarded 1988 Physics Nobel for their direct detection of muon neutrinos.

A neutrino is an elementary particle as predicted in the Standard Model. First proposed by Wolfgang Pauli, neutrinos are quite elusive in nature--they don't interact with most matters due to its lack of interaction with the electromagnetic force. But they do play an important role in the weak subatomic force, and are marginally interactive with gravity.

Adding to the quirky character of this super light-weight, electrically neutral particle, a neutrino may come in three different leptonic flavors: electron, muon or tau, in association with the corresponding charged lepton.

In 1962, Lederman and his collaborators made the first-ever detection of the interactions of the muon neutrino, which had already been hypothesized with the name neutretto, proving that there is more than one type (flavor) of neutrino out there and earning themselves a Nobel prize 26 years later.

Another event put Lederman in the limelight was that he was the first person to coin the term "god particles", as a reference to the Higgs bosons, another type of ghostly particles. The discovery of the bottom quark in 1977 and the top quark in 1995, both of which happened in the fame Fermi lab under Lederman's leadership, had physicists excited about completing the validation of Standard Model. But one last puzzle piece the Higgs boson refused to show up in many years of experiments until the advent of Large Hadron Collider and its successful detection in 2011 to 2013.

As a light-hearted comment on the nature of the Higgs, Lederman noted that he was thinking about naming his book, a collaboration with science journalist Dick Teresi, "The Goddamned Particle". (Fortunately, or unfortunately, it did not happen). It was titled "The God Particle" instead.

Sadly, his ownership of the Nobel medal, the ultimate trophy in science, went on to embody those nearly intangible particles he devoted his life to. In 2015 Lederman decided to sell his medal for a price of $765,000, most of which went to pay for his medical bills and health care service. After battling memory loss and senile mental disorders for 7 years, the explorer and narrator of the subatomic world died in an Idaho nursing home.

Leon Lederman - WSF's First "Pioneer in Science" (WSF)

Source: ArsTechnica

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
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