Photo of Leon M. Lederman

Leon M. Lederman

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

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.

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.”