Physicist Leon Lederman, renowned for his subatomic particle work, has died

He famously described the Higgs boson as ‘the God particle’

Leon Lederman

PARTICLE PIONEER  Physicist Leon Lederman revamped scientists’ knowledge of elementary particles and was the second director of Fermilab, the particle physics laboratory in Batavia, Ill.


Leon Lederman, a Nobel Prize–winning particle physicist who lifted back the curtain to the subatomic world, died on October 3 at the age of 96.

His work revealed the existence of multiple new elementary particles — with names like the muon neutrino and the bottom quark — showing that the realm of the infinitesimal was more complex than previously thought. The muon neutrino discovery earned Lederman and two colleagues the Nobel Prize in physics in 1988.

Known for his sense of humor and passion for sharing science with the public, Lederman wrote multiple popular science books. He also coined a nickname for the Higgs boson, the particle discovered in 2012 that reveals the origins of particles’ masses. Lederman dubbed it “the God particle” in a 1993 book of the same name. (Famously, Lederman said that he wanted to call it the “goddamn particle” but his publisher wouldn’t let him.)

Lederman helped establish Fermilab, the particle physics laboratory in Batavia, Ill., championing the idea and serving as its second director. He previously served on the board of the organization that publishes Science News, then known as Science Service and now called the Society for Science & the Public.

In 2008, Lederman penned an article for Science News on the importance of science education in the modern, globally connected world. “We face a crucial choice: whether to apply our science with humanistic wisdom for the advancement of humankind or to succumb to the base forces and epic tragedies that weave through our history,” he wrote.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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