Leon Lederman 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. With colleagues and students from Nevis he led an intensive and wide-ranging series of experiments which have provided major advances in the understanding of "weak interactions," one of the fundamental nuclear forces.
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.
The experiment used a beam of the AGS's energetic protons to produce a shower of pi mesons, which traveled 70 feet toward a 5,000-ton steel wall made of old battleship plates. On the way, they decayed into muons and neutrinos, but only the latter particles could pass through the wall into a neon-filled detector called a spark chamber. There, the impact of neutrinos on aluminum plates produced muon spark trails that could be detected and photographed -- proving the existence of muon neutrinos.
The experiment's use of the first-ever neutrino beam paved the way for scientists to use these particles in research at the AGS and around the world, and eventually netted Lederman and his partners a Nobel Prize in Physics. Since the team's work, neutrinos have been used as a way of analyzing everything from the structure of the atomic nucleus to the energy level of an exploding star, or supernova.
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.
Today, Dr. Lederman is Pritzker Professor of Physics at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has received numerous awards besides the Nobel, including the National Medal of Science (1965), the Elliot Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute (1976), and the Wolf Prize in Physics (1982). He is a past chairman and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1993 he was awarded the Enrico Fermi Prize by President Clinton. He has served as founding member of the High-Energy Physics Advisory Panel and the International Committee for Future Accelerators.
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.
Leon Lederman's publication list runs to 200 papers. He is co-author of the books, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? (1989, written with Dick Teresi) and From Quarks to the Cosmos: Tools of Discovery (1995, co-author David N. Schramm). In these works, Lederman uses humor, metaphor, and storytelling to delve into the mysteries of matter, discussing particle accelerators and the yet-to-be-discovered "God particle."