A Nobel Prize-winning physicist sold his medal for $765,000 to pay medical bills. Only in America.

By Sarah Kliff
Vox, October 4, 2018

Leon Lederman won a Nobel Prize in 1988 for his pioneering physics research.

But in 2015, the physicist, who passed away Wednesday, sold his Nobel Prize medal for $765,000 to pay his mounting medical bills. The University of Chicago professor began to suffer from memory loss in 2011, and died in an Idaho nursing home.

In a lot of ways Lederman’s story represents the best and worst of America. Lederman was born in the 1920s to a father who worked in a laundry facility. He went on to discover the Higgs boson subatomic particle, the so-called “God particle.”

But even an accomplished physicist and university professor isn’t immune from America’s sky-high health care prices.



Leon Lederman, 96, Explorer (and Explainer) of the Subatomic World, Dies

By George Johnson
The New York Times, October 3, 2018

Leon Lederman, whose ingenious experiments with particle accelerators deepened science’s understanding of the subatomic world, died early Wednesday in Rexburg, Idaho. He was 96.

Early in his career Dr. Lederman and two colleagues demonstrated that there are at least two kinds of particles called neutrinos (there are now known to be three), a discovery that was honored in 1988 with a Nobel Prize in Physics. He went on to lead a team at the Fermi laboratory, in Batavia, Ill., that found the bottom quark, another fundamental constituent of matter.

He and his wife, Ellen, moved to their place in Idaho, in Driggs, just before his 90th birthday. Found to have dementia, he was advised by his doctors to live in peaceful surroundings. In 2015 the couple agreed to let an online auction company sell his Nobel Prize medal. The proceeds, $765,002 before taxes, were set aside for future medical expenses.

“There’s always a place at the edge of our knowledge, where what’s beyond is unimaginable, and that edge, of course, moves,” Dr. Lederman told The Times in 1998.

In the beginning were the laws of physics. But where did the laws come from? At that point, he said, “You’re stuck.”

“I usually say, ‘Go across the street to the theology school, and ask those guys, because I don’t know.’”


Yes, only in America. Nobel laureate Leon Lederman sold his Nobel medal in order to help pay for his pending medical bills.

To learn more about this remarkable gentleman, the full New York Times obituary is well worth reading.

Then take time out for a contemplative interlude. We all know about the injustices of our health care financing system that negatively impact those of modest or meager means, but a Nobel laureate?

We can do better that that, to the benefit of everyone.

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