Why Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist Leon Lederman Sends His Medal To The Auction Block


An experimental physicist whose work has led to the discovery of a new subatomic particle and the creation of a new field of quantum physics is selling his Nobel Prize medal in an auction.

Leon Lederman, who discovered the muon neutrino in 1962 with Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberg, is selling the Nobel Prize medal he received for his work in 1988. The medal is being auctioned online by Nate D. Sanders and has a starting bid of $325,000. Bidding ends on Thursday night, after a full half hour goes by without the highest bidder unchallenged.

"The prize has been sitting on a shelf somewhere for the last 20 years," 92-year-old Lederman tells the Associated Press. "I made a decision to sell it. It seems like a logical thing to do."

Lederman, who now lives with his wife in a Driggs, Idaho log cabin he bought with his Nobel prize money, is co-author of the critically acclaimed science book "The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?" He is also instrumental in the discovery of the bottom quark. Before retiring in Idaho, Lederman was director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.

Ellen Lederman, his wife, tells the Sun Times Chicago that for two decades, the medal sat on a ledge in their home in Illinois before being moved to a similarly inconspicuous location on a shelf in their log cabin.

"We could have used the medal as a coaster," she jokes. "It's beautiful and it's extremely important, but you either put it on the shelf or in a safe deposit box. We put it on a shelf and it has never really been on our minds or something we worried about."

The medal is made of 18-carat gold and plated in 24-carat gold. The front showcases a face of Alfred Nobel, the inventor and engineer behind the Nobel prizes, with his name, birth and death dates in Roman numerals. The back of the medal shows a relief of the goddess Isis wearing a veil held up by a woman who represents science. On the edges of the medal are the words "Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes," which translates to "And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery."

Laura Yntema, auction manager at Nate D. Sanders, says owning a Nobel prize medal is like collecting sports memorabilia. She says the auction house has received a "fair amount" of inquiries about the medal, but it is still unclear how much it is expected to fetch.

"It would just be an honor to own it," Yntema says. "What these people have accomplished, it's mind-boggling how they advanced society." 

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