Leon Lederman and Starting Out

The soul is awestruck and shudders at the sight of the beautiful.” Plato

Leon Max Lederman (born July 15, 1922) is an American experimental physicist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate for his work with neutrinos. He is Director Emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois. He founded the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, in Aurora, Illinois in 1986, and has served in the capacity of Resident Scholar since 1998.

 The lessons of history are clear. The more exotic, the more abstract the knowledge, the more profound will be its consequences.” Leon Lederman, from an address to the Franklin Institute, 1995 

I found the following clip from the article linked at bottom of Quote. Very funny indeed.

After the test (I felt only slightly better), I returned to the lab to find a janitor mopping the wire-strewn floor and singing an Italian operatic tune. As I entered, the guy shouted something in Italian and offered a handshake.

I said, “Okay, but be careful. The wires are carrying a high current and your wet mop may produce a short circuit.” He stared cluelessly and, in total disgust, I walked out in the hall to wait for the guy to leave.

In the hall, there was the department chairman. “We have a new, dumb janitor, huh?” I said.

“New? No, wait! You mean the guy in your lab?


“That’s no janitor, dummy, that’s Professor Gilberto Bernardini, a world-famous Italian cosmic-ray expert whom I invited to spend a year here to help you in your research.”

“Oh, my God!” I gasped and rushed in to repair my damage.

Over time, Bernardini and I learnt how to communicate and I began to watch Gilberto. There was his habit of entering a dark room, pushing the light switch: light. Pushing it again: off. On, off five or six times. Each time there would be a loud “fantastico!” Why? He seemed to have this remarkable sense of wonder about simple things.

Then the cloud chamber.

Gilberto: “Wat’s dat wire in de middle?”

Leon: “That’s carrying the radioactive source.”

Gilberto: “Tayk id oud.”

Leon: “It makes tracks.”

Gilberto: “Tayk id oud.”

After a few minutes, tracks appeared. My source had been far too radioactive for the chamber! Now we had a success. See:Life in physics and the crucial sense of wonder


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