‘God particle’ physicist and Nobel laureate Leon Lederman dies at 96
Lederman helped promote the importance of particle physics to the general public and his research laid the groundwork for the Standard Model.
- Lederman won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering a second type of neutrino.
- He coined the nickname 'God particle' for the Higgs boson in his 1993 bestseller The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?
- In 2015, Lederman and his family sold his Nobel Prize to pay for medical bills resulting from dementia.
Leon Lederman, a Nobel laureate and particle physicist celebrated for his sense of humor and ability to explain physics to the general public, has died at the age of 96.
During his long and decorated career, Lederman directed the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, coined 'the God particle' as a popular term for the Higgs boson, and conducted groundbreaking research that helped lay the foundations for the Standard Model of particle physics, which scientists use to explain nearly every force in the universe besides gravity.
In 1988 Lederman and two of his colleagues won the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering a second type of neutrino, the muon. (Scientists later discovered a third called the tau.) The Nobel Foundation wrote:
"In decays of certain elementary particles, neutrinos are produced; particles that occasionally interact with matter to produce electrons. Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz, and Jack Steinberger managed to create a beam of neutrinos using a high-energy accelerator. In 1962, they discovered that, in some cases, instead of producing an electron, a muon (200 times heavier than an electron) was produced, proving the existence of a new type of neutrino, the muon neutrino. These particles, collectively called "leptons", could then be systematically classified in families."
In addition to discovering and experimenting with subatomic particles, Lederman also promoted the importance of particle physics to the general public, most prominently in his 1993 bestselling book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?
He described his choice to nickname the Higgs boson like this:
"This boson is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive, that I have given it a nickname: the God Particle. Why God Particle? Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to another book, a much older one... "
To say the nickname was disliked by physicists, including Peter Higgs himself, would be an understatement. In a 2009 article for The Guardian, science journalist Ian Sample asks a Manchester University physicist what he thinks of the name:
"He paused. He sighed. And then he said: "I really, really don't like it. It sends out all the wrong messages. It overstates the case. It makes us look arrogant. It's rubbish." He then added: "If you walked down the corridor here, poked your head into people's offices, and asked that question, you would likely be struck by flying books."
Although he was an atheist, Lederman didn't propose that physics could provide an all-encompassing explanation for our universe.
"There's always a place at the edge of our knowledge, where what's beyond is unimaginable, and that edge, of course, moves," Lederman told The New York Times in 1998, adding that we might know the laws of physics but we don't know where they came from, leaving us "stuck."
"I usually say, 'Go across the street to the theology school, and ask those guys, because I don't know.'"
In 2015, Lederman's Nobel Prize gold medal was auctioned off for $765,002 to pay for his medical bills that resulted from dementia.
"I'm shocked it sold at all," Lederman's wife, Ellen, told The Associated Press. "It's really hard. I wish it could be different. But he's happy. He likes where he lives with cats and dogs and horses. He doesn't have any problems with anxiety, and that makes me glad that he's so content."
Lederman once described the mindset in which he often found himself doing his best work. "The best discoveries always seem to be made in the small hours of the morning, when most people are asleep, where there are no disturbances and the mind becomes most contemplative," he told science writer Malcolm W. Browne in Discover magazine in 1981.
Pay attention to the decisions made by the provinces.
- China leads the world in numerous green energy categories.
- CO2 emissions in the country totaling more than all coal emissions in the U.S. have recently emerged.
- This seems to be an administrative-induced blip on the way towards a green energy tipping point.
NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.
Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!
And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"
All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!
Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my tsundoku.
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- Statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb believes surrounding ourselves with unread books enriches our lives as they remind us of all we don't know.
- The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits.
Calling all big thinkers!
The Boring Company plans to offer free rides in its prototype tunnel in Hawthorne, California in December.
- The prototype tunnel is about 2 miles long and contains electric skates that travel at top speeds of around 150 mph.
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- If successful, the prototype could help the company receive regulatory approval for much bigger projects in L.A. and beyond.
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- Other methods suggested by researchers include daily gratitude reflection, gratitude posters, and keeping a "gratitude jar."
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Anatomy and physiology professor David Harper claims a recent study in The Lancet is flawed.
- The low-carbohydrate group in a recent Lancet study were typically middle-aged, obese, sedentary, diabetic smokers.
- The study was not a randomized, controlled, double-blind experiment.
- Harper has been in ketosis for six years, and says it has profound effects on cancer patients, among other chronic ailments.
A mind-bending paradox questions the nature of reality.
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