Leon M. Lederman’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1988
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
My colleagues Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger join me to express our feelings of pleasure and gratitude for the decision to award us the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physics, thus making us experts on the Brazilian debt, women’s fashions and social security. We are also agreed that we owe much to many others, and I would like to mention Professor T. D. Lee, our Columbia colleague, for his guidance and inspiration. I would also like to cite the late Isidore I. Rabi and the department he built at Columbia University in the 1950’s and 60’s: surely one of the greatest assemblages of physicists ever collected. With six laureates it was ordained that others of us might be infected.
We also acknowledge our co-workers on the experiment, all of whom are with us today: Gordon Danby of Brookhaven Laboratory, Jean-Marc Gaillard of CERN/Orsay, Konstantin Goulianos of Rockefeller University and Nariman Mistry of Cornell.
We are honored for research which is today referred to as the “Two Neutrino Experiment”. How does one make this research comprehensible to ordinary people? In fact “The Two Neutrinos” sounds like an Italian dance team. How can we have our colleagues in chemistry, medicine, and especially in literature share with us, not the cleverness of our research, but the beauty of the intellectual edifice, of which our experiment is but one brick? This is a dilemma and an anguish for all scientists because the public understanding of science is no longer a luxury of cultural engagement, but it is an essential requirement for survival in our increasingly technological age: In this context, I believe this Nobel Ceremony with its awesome tradition and pomp has as one of its most important benefits; the public attention it draws to science and its practitioners.
Today, twenty-six years after the “Two Neutrino Experiment”, the subject of particle physics with its modest goal of understanding the universe, dances with excitement and anticipations. Stephen Hawking in his best selling book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME writes:
“If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone; not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist: if we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”