“ASK A NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING PHYSICIST!”

In 1988, Leon M. Lederman, Melvin Schwartz, and Jack Steinberger won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on neutrinos. Since that time, Dr. Lederman has taught many courses, and at least twice—once in Chicago, Illinois, and once in New York City—he has sat at a table on a sidewalk and answered questions about physics from members of the general public. People know that they can ask him questions because of the sign that says, “ASK A NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING PHYSICIST!” An additional sign has a drawing of an atom and an arrow that points to Mr. Lederman. He is able to explain physics concepts clearly, and by all accounts he is a very nice person. In a comment on a story that the website Boing Boing published about Dr. Lederman, Dan Shapiro wrote, “I spent a summer at Fermilab in high school, and one day snuck out of the program and tracked down Dr. Lederman in his office. The door was closed, and I tentatively asked a woman sitting outside if the professor might be available for just a quick autograph. She stared at me for a second, stood up, and yelled, ‘LEEEEOOON!’ Then she sat down and told me, ‘I think he’s in the can.’
The Nobel-prize-winning physicist emerged from said can a moment later. He gave me a big smile and shook my hand. I asked him for an autograph, and he said, in a voice with what I took to be a thick foreign accent, ‘I’m very sorry I can’t speak with you right now.’ He scribbled his name on the paper, and continued, ‘I just got back from the dentist and my mouth hurts like a motherf[**]ker.’ At least I think that’s what he said, as there was clearly a lot of Novocain involved. Big smile, another handshake, and a great reminder that heroes can be nice normal human beings, too.” In addition, “Kludgegrrl” wrote this comment: “Back when I was an undergraduate in the ’80’s, Dr. Lederman taught a ‘physics for poets’ class at the U of Chicago (which required all students to take three terms of physical science, among many other things). How angry was my boyfriend, a physics major, that I go to have him as a prof! Allegedly, Dr. Lederman would *only* teach undergraduates who were not physics majors, because it was a more interesting challenge. At any rate, he was an excellent teacher and it was a wonderful class.”

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