The National Science Board announced Monday that it chose Leon Lederman as the 2012 recipient of the Vannevar Bush Award.
The award is given to people who are lifelong leaders in science and technology and who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation.
While the general public might know him best for his book “The God Particle” about the search for the Higgs boson, Lederman has improved the lives of millions through his efforts in science, eduction and cultural outreach.
His early award-winning research in high-energy physics brought him into national science policy circles and in 1963 he proposed the idea that became the National Accelerator Laboratory, which was later renamed Fermilab. In 1977 Lederman led the team that discovered the bottom quark at Fermilab. The following year he was named director of the laboratory and his administration brought Fermilab into its position of scientific prominence by 1983 with the achievement of the then world’s most powerful superconducting accelerator, the Tevatron. In 1988 Lederman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
During his term as director, Lederman emphasized the importance of math and science education as outreach to the neighboring communities. He initiated the Saturday Morning Physics lectures, which have drawn thousands of students to the laboratory to meet and question physicists. He subsequently founded the Friends of Fermilab, which raises money for science education; the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy; and the Teacher’s Academy for Mathematics and Science, which provides in-service training and professional development for K-8 math and science teachers. Lederman is also one of the main proponents of the Physics First initiative to introduce physics earlier in the high school curriculum. His contributions to eduction have been memorialized at Fermilab with the naming of a hands-on K-12 science education center after him. The Leon Lederman Science Center is host to hundreds of field trips by schools and scout troops each year and supports Science Adventure classes during school breaks.
In about 1980, Lederman also made it a mission to include Mexican and Latin American researchers in high-energy physics experiments. Prior to that, the involvement by those countries was limited theoretical research not hands-on experimentation. Lederman subscribed to the philosophy of the more minds the better. He helped Hispanic scientists find a foothold in experimental programs and encouraged internships at Fermilab for Hispanic youth. The outreach has been successful and Fermilab now counts many Latin American countries as collaborators on science experiments. One example is Mexico, which is Fermilab’s ninth most prolific partnering country in terms of collaboration results.
– Tona Kunz